Sheriff offers to collect extra pot plants under new rules

Sheriff offers to collect extra pot plants under new rules »Play Video
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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The next battles are already starting over the new county rules on medical marijuana. Supporters said they have petitions ready to challenge the bans on storefront dispensaries and large outdoor grows.

Meanwhile, the Kern County Sheriff's department said growers with more than the new 12-plant limit can turn that in, with no fear of prosecution.

Kern County Supervisors passed the new ordinances on Tuesday, and Thursday a spokesman said medical marijuana supporters hope to start gathering petition signatures on Friday.

"Right now we'll have community effort doing it," California Cannabis Coalition president Craig Beresh told Eyewitness News. "Then we're going to have paid signature-gatherers in town."

Beresh said the fight may cost up to $60,000, but the funds are there. He said organizations like his are putting in money, as well as local dispensaries and patients. He said they also plan to file a lawsuit Friday against the ban on collectives, and on Friday they'll file for a temporary restraining order trying to stop the new ban on outdoor grows of more than 12 plants.

That ban is already in effect, because it was passed as a "urgency ordinance." Supervisors said they took that immediate action, convinced by law enforcement that most marijuana crops are nearly ready for harvest, and that the large pot gardens are a target for violence.

At Tuesday's hearing, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood showed the board photos of a very large grow raided this week, which included 17 booby traps, according to officers.

The sheriff's department announcement on taking in plants said anyone can call 391-7580 for more information. "Arrangements will be made to accept their excess plants for destruction and/or to answer any questions regarding compliance issues," the statement read.

Eyewitness News had questions about how long that offer will be available, and what penalties growers would face later. But no one was available to answer questions on Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Beresh said the groups supporting medical marijuana will circulate petitions asking voters to sign for a simple referendum on both new county rules, basically whether they don't want the new ordinances.

The spokesman said if voters approve that, the groups then want to work with county leaders. They hope a task force of appointed community members could then come up with alternatives to the ban. Beresh said many medical marijuana collectives and patients think there should be changes to the current situation.

"We need to regulate it, we need to come down with some rules," Beresh said.

When asked for examples of better rules, he said, "We need to know where they're going to be allowed. We don't want to be on top of each other, we don't want to be close to schools, we want to do it the right way."

Beresh said they also want a task force to come up with different rules on medical marijuana grows. 

But, getting the new county rules tossed out requires the groups to get enough signatures on the petitions. If that happens, the just-passed county ordinance to shut down the dispensaries would be automatically suspended, according to Kern County chief elections clerk Karen Rhea. She said the groups must get 17,350 signatures in 30 days.

"September 8 is the last day for the protest to be filed with the Board," Rhea told Eyewitness News.  If the groups get enough signatures, Rhea said the ordinance is set back to the supervisors for consideration. The board can repeal the ordinance or put the question to the voters.

Beresh said if it goes to the voters, the board must set an election within 88 days. But Rhea said that's not correct. An election has to be held "not less than 88 days" later.

"Should the protest be sufficient and the board decides to put it to a vote, the election may either be called as a special election to be consolidated with the next regularly scheduled county election," Rhea said. 

Can they get enough signatures in 30 days? Beresh is convinced the supporter groups can do it.

"This is not going to be a problem. In fact, I feel this is going to be about the easiest county," he said. "I've talked to many people throughout town, and I don't find many people that are against it."