An initiative calling on voters to do away with Bakersfield’s pot shop ban cleared an important hurdle between it and the November 2018 ballot.

Organizers filed petitions with nearly 33,000 signatures at City Hall North, seeking to bring the Medical Cannabis Initiative to voters in two years.

If it qualifies for the ballot, the measure would ask voters to replace the City of Bakersfield’s medical marijuana dispensary ban with state regulation according to the 2015 Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.

Jeff Jarvis, Heather Epps and nearly a dozen supporters turned in “approximately 5,107” sections, or pages, to the Bakersfield City Clerk’s office containing “approximately 32,993” signatures.

That’s more than double the 15,438 signatures required, representing 10 percent of Bakersfield’s 154,375 registered voters at the time signature gathering began this spring.

Bakersfield City Clerk Roberta Gafford and Deputy City Attorney Richard Iger said employees from their offices will meet today with officials from the Kern County elections office to learn how to verify the signatures.

Iger said the City Clerk’s and City Attorney’s offices will then confirm that a random sampling of 3 percent of signatures, or nearly 1,000, come from registered voters who are city residents.

If, based on statistical analysis of that sampling, it’s determined that fewer than 95 percent of all signatures are likely to come from registered voters living in city limits, the initiative will be disqualified, Iger said.

But if a statistical analysis determines anywhere from 95 to 110 percent of signatures are likely to be valid, city officials will have to review every signature.

By law they’ll have 30 working days — weekends and holidays excluded — from Tuesday during which to do the sampling; then another 60 working days to review all signatures.

“We’re excited about it. This isn’t something that comes along every day,” said Gafford, noting that an initiative has never qualified for the ballot during her 15 years in the City Clerk’s office.

Jarvis, a board member with advocacy group Kern Citizens for Patient Rights, which funded signature-gathering, called it unprecedented.

“This is an historic effort. I think the community is talking. And I’m hoping our council takes a new approach to this. We’ve given them the mechanism to eliminate their problem. All they have to do is bring it into law,” Jarvis said.

He added that its costs to date are between $140,000 and $150,000.

Five years ago, KCPR successfully blocked a County of Kern ban on storefront collectives.

“This is just defining the City of Bakersfield, what they want. This isn’t a recreational initiative,” said the initiative’s co-author, David Abbasi, emphasizing its focus is medical marijuana. “Obviously, we need regulations because there’s too many unchecked things going on right now.”

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