After a court-ordered review of Kern's medical marijuana ordinance limiting dispensaries, county lawyers have concluded that it does not violate the state's environmental quality act.
This could be good news for Kern County, which had convinced voters 18 months ago that medical marijuana dispensaries should be restricted, only to be sued by a group of county medical marijuana patients and patient collectives and cooperatives that accused the county of not considering the environmental consequences of the ordinance.
However, if Kern County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Twisselman II decides he's not satisfied with the county's review when both sides return to court Jan. 24, Twisselman could still invalidate Measure G and call for an initial study -- a deeper review.
Measure G, the county's pot ordinance, says medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives can only operate on industrial land and must be at least a mile from schools, day care centers, churches, public parks, and other collectives and cooperatives.
In court documents filed Dec. 19 after a month-long review, county lawyers found Measure G qualified for a "common sense" exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act, writing that it was "premature and therefore too speculative" to say if closing or relocating dispensaries could have a "reasonably foreseeable significant indirect impact" on the environment.
Attorneys wrote that they reached this conclusion because it was unknown how many current dispensaries would relocate -- given that medical marijuana is a federally-prohibited substance -- or where they would go, or how many patients would visit those new locations or simply end up growing their own.
Kern County attorneys did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
Long Beach attorney Jamie T. Hall, who represents T.C.E.F., the group of patients, cooperatives and collectives, wasn't surprised by the county's finding, but said that a common sense exemption doesn't apply.
"We still get back to this basic fact, which is that when they adopted Measure G, they understood and contemplated that there were environmental impacts," Hall said.
Also ongoing are arguments in a similar medical marijuana CEQA challenge case, this one brought against Bakersfield's pot ordinance by Hall, representing Concerned Citizens of Bakersfield.
Opening briefs in that case are due in January, and it has an April 14 hearing date in Kern County Superior Court.