Let’s try this again.
Thursday night the Kern County Planning Commission will take up, for a second time, one of the toughest decisions it will face this year.
Should the county ban or allow and regulate the commercial cannabis industry?
The issue was set for discussion two weeks ago on Sept. 28 but a honeymoon, a personal emergency and a conflict of interest left the five-person planning commission with only two available members. Without a legal quorum the commission punted the issue to tomorrow night.
But that put a bit of a time squeeze on the marijuana matter.
California voters, in November, voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. That legalization was designed to take place in two steps.
First the personal possession, cultivation and use of marijuana was legalized. Prop. 64 immediately allowed adults over 21 to possess up to roughly one ounce of marijuana, to smoke marijuana at a private home and to grow up to up to six marijuana plants at their residence. Kern County can’t make laws controlling those rights Californians now have.
But Prop. 64 specifically gave cities and counties the right to regulate or — if they chose — ban the commercial cultivation, processing, distribution and sales of cannabis.
Cities and counties must have regulations in place before the State of California begins licensing businesses in January.
County Counsel Mark Nations said the state might give the county a break on that deadline. But the planning commission is under pressure to vote quickly and forward its recommendation to the Kern County Board of Supervisors in case the state isn't feeling generous.
Supervisors need to make their own decision about cannabis, and an environmental impact report on the issue in hand, 30 days before Jan. 1 so the rule can take effect by that date.
But supervisors are scheduled to meet only on Oct. 24, Nov. 7 and Nov. 14.
Any more delays at the planning commission level and supervisors could be heading to the state, hat in hand, asking to postpone the issuance of state licenses to businesses that a county ordinance might otherwise ban or limit.
The Kern County Planning Commission meets at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Only four of the five members will be able to vote on cannabis.
Commissioner Ron Sprague, a longtime real estate professional in Bakersfield, said his business is selling property to a cannabis interest.
On Sept. 28 he recused himself from voting due to the potential conflict of interest.
Commissioners Xochitl Garcia and Melissa Poole, who were missing on Sept. 28, are expected to join Chad Louie and Chris Babcock to discuss the cannabis EIR and render a recommendation.
Here’s what they have before them:
Option A: Ban all commercial marijuana operations in the unincorporated areas of Kern County.
This option would require existing, legal medical marijuana dispensaries to close down within one year of the new cannabis ordinance taking effect.
A report from the Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Department states that a ban would cost between $1.2 million to $2.7 million in additional county expenses as several county departments would be required to police the ordinance and take a proactive stance to shut down illegal marijuana operations.
Without that cash, the report states, marijuana dispensaries would simply flout county rules – as they have done for years – and operate illegally.
Option B: Allow marijuana businesses to operate but limit their number, size and location, and regulate how they operate.
Staff of the Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Department are recommending this option.
The regulations are extensive.
Marijuana cultivation, testing and processing facilities would have to be located a half-mile from public schools, parks, large family daycare facilities, youth centers, libraries and the border limits of any city.
The buffer for retail operations, the report states, would be 1,500 feet.
The number of marijuana dispensaries would be limited to 32 and would need to be spread out across the county.
Currently many dispensaries are concentrated in a few areas, such as North Chester Avenue in Oildale.
Indoor cultivation of marijuana would be limited to two million square feet of space. Outdoor cultivation would be capped at 150 acres.
Personal use of marijuana would be banned in public, in county parks and in entertainment venues.
The rules would also require businesses to get licenses from the State of California and go through an official process to get county approval to operate.
But regulating marijuana businesses, the county planning report states, could bring in more than $1.5 million in new revenue.
The Planning Department is recommending using that money to enforce regulations and fund programs to fight drug addiction in Kern County.
Thursday’s meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Kern County Board of Supervisors chambers on the first floor of the Kern County Administrative Center at 1115 Truxtun Ave.