Paul Foley was disappointed to see the photo of Carpinteria school principals and district Superintendent Diane Rigby posing in Glass House Farms coats and hats with a cannabis grow behind them. He wants the district to return the CARP growers donation. (September 10, 2019) | Credit: Paul Wellman

Despite seemingly incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, appearances actually still matter. Or more precisely, pretenses still do. At least in the small town of Carpinteria, which by now has become more a state of mind than an actual place.

Carpinterians are once again up in a full-frontal lather over cannabis, which is also a state of mind as much as an actual weed. As any fool can see, these states of mind have not been coexisting well in recent months; it seems there’s something about the smell. Which begs the question: What genius thought it made a spit’s lick of sense to arrange a posed photo of the superintendent of the Carpinteria school district — flanked by three school principals and a director of technology — out in the middle of a pot greenhouse with thousands of baby pot plants popping up, all wearing goofy grins and those even goofier professional pot-grower hats affixed with the pot company corporate logo, Glass House Farms? How does a photo like that — especially when published in Carpinteria’s hometown paper the Coastal View — not serve to further inflame Carpinteria’s already-too-raw sense of outrage over weed? 

On what planet does this photo not make the subjects look like monkeys on a string?

Superintendent Diane Rigby at Tuesday’s Carpinteria School Board.

Based on the 14 people who showed up to wave their arms, pound the table, point their fingers, and pound their chests at the Carpinteria School Board meeting Tuesday night, clearly not the one on which we reside. 

The backstory behind the photo is that the Carpinteria Cannabis growers association — as part of a concerted campaign to win friends, influence people, and prove they are not really the nefarious evildoers as depicted by their opponents — had just donated $189,000 to the cash-strapped school district to cover three years’ worth of salary for a much-needed middle school counselor-therapist to help kids with a host of problems, including drugs. The association sent the photo on to the local paper where at least three writers hold down significant side gigs with the cannabis industry.

The photo got a big play. It backfired even bigger. Even Carpinterians who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the so-called cannabis invasion were outraged by the naked stupidity of it. Eyeballs rolled. Teeth got sucked. A lot of “Are you kidding me?” got asked. In baseball-speak, it was a totally unforced error on a pop-up fly that resulted in an inside-the-park grand slam home run for the other side.

Why not have the pot guys show up at the school district headquarters instead — and they could wear their silly pot-guy hats — with one of those oversized Prize Patrol checks in hand and take one of those painfully awkward grip-n-grin shots? 

A little backstory: Several months ago, the district and the industry began talking about a sizable donation the pot growers could make to help fill some serious mental-health gaps for the district. Turns out that a recent survey of 7th graders revealed that 28 percent reported feeling chronic sadness and hopelessness. For 9th graders, it’s 23 percent and for 11th graders it’s 27 percent. As school superintendent Diana Rigby put it, “That’s just unacceptable.”  Middle school students, as a rule, tend to do a lot of stupid things, drug experimentation being just one. Last year, the district found itself $800,000 in the hole. This year, it’s starting the new school year with a $220,000 deficit and reserves lower than what they should be. In addition, Rigby said the rules adopted by the county appeared to address the odor problems.

Critics of the deal were predictably outraged. Words like “egregious” and “appalling” got tossed around a lot, especially when used to describe the district’s alleged lack of ethical judgement. What about district policies, they demanded, against accepting gifts from entities promoting violence or the consumption of tobacco, booze, or drugs? All good questions. While watching, I found myself forced to confront certain uncomfortable truths about myself. When it comes to young kids facing mental-health challenges, it turns out, my pragmatism far outweighs my principles. If I were on that school board, I’d have taken the money and ran. But I would have kept my head down and my mouth shut and acted like I’d been there before.

And absolutely, under no condition, would I ever allow one of those silly pot-grower hats near my head. 

Here’s the overriding consideration: When it comes to mental health issues for young teens, time is of the essence. You don’t get do-overs. The sooner people get help, the better off they’re likely to be long-term and the less likely their problems are to spiral into something big and messy.

Of course, the industry is trying to buy goodwill, “greenwashing” as it’s known.  So what? Make ’em pay. Get what you need. Last I looked, cannabis got legalized a few years ago. Whether I like their hats or not, the growers live here; they’re part of the community. And the jobs pay significantly better than most. Earlier this year one of the pot-growing Van Wingerdens — the “V-Dubs” as they’re known — offered the district $83,000 to equip a new science lab at the high school.  After the district wrestled with the ethics of the issue, ethics won and the pot money disappeared. Eventually, Chevron filled the breach. Are we ethically any cleaner accepting money from a company hugely responsible for the greenhouse gases that have rendered planetary weather so screamingly bipolar? Or that helped underwrite industry’s misinformation crusade to cast doubt on the reality of climate change? 

It’s a conundrum. 

That being said, the cannabis critics raised some troubling questions. The school district, they noted, was conspicuously absent from this summer’s discussion — hosted by the Carpinteria City Council — about additional protections Carp locals might demand from the county supervisors to shield them from the consequences of cannabis cultivation. Chief among these were bigger buffer zones separating cultivation sites from schools. Two years ago, school superintendent Diana Rigby had written a letter to the county supervisors demanding this very thing. But this past summer, Rigby and her district —presumably then in discussion with the cannabis growers about the mental-health donation — were singularly silent when such discussions were taking place despite several alleged invitations from cannabis critics to join in. Rigby has said Carp’s odor problems have improved vastly since that initial letter was sent. But critics pointedly suggested she and the district took a dive to get the money.

Note to school district: If you’re going to be a stooge, take pains not to look like one. Why do you think cannabis-friendly County Supervisor Das Williams—who lives in Carpinteria — now finds himself fighting for his political life? Show a little common sense.

Note to pot growers: Lose the hats. And don’t ask anyone else to wear one. Ever.


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