Kern voters to decide on local rule to regulate medical marijuana

Kern voters to decide on local rule to regulate medical marijuana

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) -- Kern County voters will decide whether to back a plan to regulate medical marijuana. It's an issue County Supervisors have wrestled with for years, and their latest proposal will be on the June 5 primary ballot.

"Measure G" would regulate where marijuana dispensaries can be located in unincorporated county areas. It's an idea supervisors put before the voters after an outright ban on dispensaries was blocked last fall.

The store-front facilities providing marijuana started to pop up after California voters legalized medicinal use of marijuana in 1996, with the "Compassionate Care Act."

Opponents of Measure G have told Eyewitness News dispensaries are needed so ill people can get the medicine they need.

County officials have argued dispensaries draw crime, and the big operations that can provide their marijuana are billion-dollar businesses. Authorities say they believe much of the pot does not go for medical needs.

Under Measure G, edible marijuana products would be banned, consumption of marijuana or alcohol at any dispensary would be prohibited. No one under the age of 18 would be allowed in a dispensary, unless that person was a qualified patient or caregiver and also accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Dispensaries would not be allowed to manufacture or process marijuana at their sites. And under "G," dispensaries could only be open from 10:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Local attorney Phil Ganong represents some dispensaries in the area. He firmly opposes Measure G.

"It's going to effectively close all the associations," Ganong has told Eyewitness News. "The locations they have them in are so impractical."

Measure G basically adds to county zoning rules. If passed, it allows dispensaries only in certain areas.

The dispensaries could only be located in zones established as medium industrial or heavy industrial. Opponents of Measure G say that severely limits where the dispensaries would end up, and they would also be difficult for ill patients to access.

Under the proposal, dispensaries must also be one mile apart, and one mile from any public or private school, any daycare center, park or church.

The rule also requires operators of any dispensary to complete a "site development plan" before opening. The facility would be required to meet certain requirements on things like parking, lighting and signs.

Since 2006, Kern County supervisors have worked on ways to regulate dispensaries. That year, the board passed an ordinance that allowed six dispensaries and licensed them. The terms of the licenses were extended in 2007.

Then in 2009, that ordinance was repealed, and another rule was enacted that just limited dispensary locations to at least 1,000 feet from a school.

It was August 2010, that the Board adopted a moratorium that banned new dispensaries and prohibited existing ones from moving. That was eventually extended.

Then last August, supervisors approved two new ordinances. An emergency ordinance limited the number of marijuana plants to 12 grown on any parcel of land. The other ordinance banned all store-front dispensaries. That second rule was set to go into effect in early September.

But before that happened, enough signatures were gathered to block the rule.

This February, Kern County supervisors repealed the ordinance that banned dispensaries and voted to put Measure G on the June primary ballot.

Opponents of Measure G insist medicinal use of marijuana is legal under State law, and they dispute arguments that dispensaries have been the scene of increased crime or violence.

If Measure G passes, the ordinance then allows for possible changes in the future.

"If approved by a majority of the voters, Measure G may thereafter be amended or repealed by the Kern County Board of Supervisors without having to seek approval of the voters of Kern County," the ordinance reads.

Critics of Measure G are also worried about that provision.

To pass, a majority of the voters must mark "yes" on Measure G. If it is approved, Measure G will become effective ten days after the vote is declared official by the Board of Supervisors, according to a spokesman in the County Counsel's office.

Throughout the latest proposals, there's still been that moratorium in place that bans new dispensaries from opening, and prohibits existing ones from moving. If Measure G passes, the moratorium won't be in effect any more, and existing dispensaries would be allowed to move to the areas that are then permitted under the rules of the new ordinance, according to the county spokesman.

An analysis of the ordinance states that under Measure G, any dispensaries not in compliance would be deemed a "public nuisance," and any responsible party could be subject to "administrative penalties, and other criminal and civil remedies."

If Measure G is not approved by the voters, the current moratorium will expire in late August, and there would be no local rules in place regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.