Tuesday’s Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting will be one of those tough ones.
Ban marijuana cultivation and sales?
Or permit and regulate it?
Supervisors must balance their roles as leaders of Kern County's conservative communities with the need to deal with the realities of a new state law that legalizes recreational pot.
Do they go with their moral gut and say no to pot?
Many people in Kern County, which in November collectively voted against the state proposition that legalized recreational cannabis use, see marijuana as a dangerous threat to the moral makeup and safety of county residents.
Pastor Harry Marroquin of the Pentecostal Church of God in Bakersfield posted a video on the Kern County-Get Off the Pot Facebook page, which has been championed by Bakersfield City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan.
“The Bible is clear in reminding us to always be sober, minded and watchful,” Marroquin said. “The Kern County Board of Supervisors will soon decide whether or not to approve the sale of recreational marijuana in Kern County. I’m asking my brothers and sisters in Christ to join me in opposing that decision. A few extra bucks in tax revenue is not worth risking the future of our children and our grandchildren. As a faith-based community we need to come together as one voice. The time to take action is now.”
Pastor Oscar Anthony said marijuana will put Kern County families at risk.
“As a pastor I hold a responsibility to my neighbors, congregation and community to speak up when our community is at risk,” Anthony said. “Recreational marijuana sales and cultivation will make it easier for children to get access to the biggest gateway drug.”
Sullivan herself repeated the claim that by considering a permit-and-regulate approach to the issue, the County of Kern was putting children at risk – just for money.
It’s easy for politicians, argues Republican political observer Justin Salters, to grab the flag of morality and wave it when such issues come to town.
He calls it “virtue signaling.”
But Salters, who writes a weekly column for The Californian, has taken a stance in support of legalization and regulation.
There is a new reality in the state after Prop. 64, he said, and the county has to confront it.
Acting from a purely moral stance, he argues, isn’t going to stop black market marijuana from continuing to plague Kern County and its cities.
“The County of Kern undertook a massive EIR to look at various different scenarios. Let's come together with a fact-based approach,” Salters said. “You may oppose cannabis but you can still vote for regulation.”
Supervisor Mick Gleason said what makes decisions like this one tough is the need to balance the roles of community leader and elected official.
He’s been here before.
Leaders have to understand who they are, understand the facts on the table and search for the decision that will do the most good for the people they represent.
“You hope everybody will respect that the decision was made on a through examination. Everybody wants to be liked,” Gleason said. “Sometimes in order to do what you need to do, there’s going to be damage. There are people that are going to be hurt. That’s what you sign up for when you take this job.”
And sometimes, he said, decisions can cost elected officials friends and allies.
But Gleason said he doesn’t ultimately focus on “virtue signaling” but rather what he feels is best for his constituents.
Then he questions that decision.
“I constantly look at it and make sure what I did was best,” Gleason said.