Bakersfield starts pot shop crackdown

Bakersfield starts pot shop crackdown

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Officials have started to enforce the city's new ban on medical marijuana dispensaries by warning landlords who are renting to the pot shops.

Letters went out to 17 property owners a week ago.
 
"Since these letters have been sent out, it's my understanding that we've actually had one property owner contact the city attorney's office and say that they're in the process of evicting the medical marijuana dispensary," City Attorney Ginny Gennaro told Eyewitness News on Monday.
 
The letters went out Aug. 19, reading: "It has come to our attention that the above-referenced property is being used as a Medical Marijuana Dispensary in violation of both federal and local law, and that you are the owner of record of the property."
 
The City Council approved the ban on June 26, and the ordinance went into effect on Aug. 26. It simply says that a medical marijuana dispensary is a use that's "prohibited within any zone district." The city has had a resolution banning dispensaries since 2004.
 
The letters regarding the new ordinance conclude by saying: "Please be advised that the continued operation of a medical marijuana dispensary on your property may result in legal action against you as a property owner."
 
Gennaro said a task force was set up including officials from the city manager's office, city attorney's office, police, city finance and code enforcement. They developed the list of 26 dispensaries, with information about the address, dispensary owner, property owner, whether it had a city business license, and how many times police had been called out.
 
The city attorney said the "calls for service" go back to January 2012. The dispensary showing the most calls was AMG Care Collective on Brundage Lane, with 22 calls. Gennaro said it's her understanding that dispensary has closed. In fact, they show a total of six or seven that are already shut down. Of those, it's not clear if one is closed, or if it's moved.
 
Gennaro said they need to double-check on some of the operations. That includes a few where addresses need to be verified.
 
Eyewitness News put in calls to all the property owners listed on the 17 letters that were mailed last Monday. None have responded, yet. Several said no one was available to comment.
 
At one dispensary in central Bakersfield, the property owner is listed as the attorney who has his office next door. That property owner said he had not received the letter from the city, and he had no comment at this time.
 
Eyewitness News also did a spot check of various dispensary operators. Several wouldn't comment. It looked like one might be closed, and several said they didn't know anything about the letter to their landlord.
 
Gennaro said about half the 26 dispensaries on the list appeared to have a business license from the Bakersfield finance office. And, she said a dispensary could still get one.
 
"In Bakersfield (city business licenses) are not regulatory, they're revenue-generating," Gennaro said. "It's very clear in our code that simply because one has a business license, or applies for a business license, that does not necessarily mean that they're a permitted use within the city of Bakersfield."
 
Asked if people could still grow medical marijuana for themselves, Gennaro said that they cannot.
 
"This ordinance doesn't allow growth for personal use," Gennaro told Eyewitness News. "But, I think in terms of this particular enforcement, it's safe to say that that hasn't been, that's not our focus."
 
The focus is on enforcing the ban on the dispensaries. The city attorney said they hope to hear from more property owners, and then take the next steps, if necessary.
 
"See how many are still active, and hopefully we'll see another round of closures," she said. And if there are some still active, Gennaro says landlords will get a "stricter" letter, and the dispensary operators will also get letters.
 
That will leave the city with a "short list" of operations to deal with, Gennaro said. Then, the city will check which dispensaries had the most serious calls for police to respond. Those will get the first action in that next round.

"Which ones we actually send out code enforcement," Gennaro said. "And letters from the City Council that say, you need to leave, or we're going to court."