Few issues that come before the Kern County Board of Supervisors are as fraught with emotion as marijuana.
Kern County supervisors aren’t immune to that passion. For Supervisor Leticia Perez and her husband, Fernando Jara, the issue of medicinal cannabis is deeply personal.
Until the end of January, when dispensary owner David Abbasi leveled dramatic accusations and demands at them, he was their trusted friend.
Jara met Abbasi in late 2016.
Jara, who has a political consultancy business called Savage Communications, said he was just leaving the unsuccessful mayoral campaign of Kyle Carter and was struggling with the loss and personal struggles.
Jara claims that, following Sept. 11 attacks on the United States by Al-Qaida, he was recruited by the CIA and FBI to infiltrate Islamic terror networks in the Middle East, a claim reviewed and reported on by the Los Angeles Times and The Bakersfield Californian in 2013.
He came home a broken man, Jara said, suffering from combat post traumatic stress disorder. He had been managing the illness, he said, by consuming a cocktail of prescription medications that had him sleeping 12 to 14 hours a day and in a fog for much of the rest of the time.
“I had three to four hours of good time a day,” Jara said.
After a decade of serious complications from his illness, he said, it felt like his marriage and his life were on the line.
Abbasi changed that.
“I met Abbasi because, by chance, I’d gone to watch my wife work” at a Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting, Jara said.
Proposition 64, the state initiative that legalized recreational marijuana, had just passed.
And Kern County was launching an environmental impact report on cannabis that would — nearly a year later — result in a ban on all commercial and medicinal pot in the county.
At that county meeting he attended, Jara said, Abbasi spoke passionately for medical marijuana patients. Jara was impressed. And he was looking for work.
The pair talked and Jara suggested he could help Abbasi in his efforts.
Jara agreed to meet Abbasi at his Green Cross medical marijuana dispensary on Niles Street near Baker Street.
“I begged him for any chance to run a campaign,” Jara said.
But Abbasi didn’t know if he was law enforcement, Jara said. So Abbasi offered him THC — the active euphoric in marijuana — and an edible with Cannabidiol — the compound in marijuana believed to have therapeutic effects — Jara said. He partook of both.
And his life changed, Jara said.
Within 10 or 15 minutes a decade of PTSD haze lifted from his mind.
“It was like a heavy yoke being removed from my shoulders,” Jara said. “At that moment it was the first time I felt like my mind was back.”
Perez said she was angry when her husband came home with marijuana.
“I forced him not to bring it into the home,” she said.
But then, she said, she started seeing laughter and joy in him that she hadn’t seen in her husband for a very long time.
“He’d been gone for 10 years,” Perez said.
Over the following months, Jara said, they worked out the appropriate dosage of THC and CDB that could best treat his PTSD. And life got better.
“It saved my marriage,” Jara said. “It saved my life.”
The couple will always be grateful to Abbasi for that.
The experience turned Jara into an advocate for medical marijuana and triggered a burst of professional work and personal advocacy he engaged in throughout 2017.
“I wanted healing, too, for other veterans that want to blow their brains out,” Jara said.
Jara said he was paid to help Abbasi set up the Central Valley Cannabis Association political action committee and taught him how to conduct himself in the political arena.
Abbasi stated, in a text, that he paid Jara $5,000 in December 2016 for political consulting tied to his fight for patient rights.
But Jara’s connection to Abbasi resulted in him being drawn into the messy politics of local marijuana advocates.
Abbasi had once been involved with Kern Citizens for Patient Rights, a group of business owners and advocates who used a referendum to overturn an earlier ban passed by the county.
In late 2016 the group was putting together an initiative for the November 2018 ballot that would legalize marijuana shops in the city of Bakersfield.
Jara and Abbasi set up a meeting to gather support from KCPR partners for Abbasi's PAC. The meeting blew up when attorney Phil Ganong, who represented Kern Citizens, feuded with Abbasi, Jara said.
Abbasi's group never drew strong support, he said.
Heather Epps, one of the leaders on the Kern Citizens board, said they just couldn’t deal with Abbasi.
“David wanted to lead his own group,” Epps said. “He was relentless in recruiting the (dispensary general managers) in Kern Citizens.”
Epps said the effort to reverse city and county closure of shops wasn’t happening fast enough for Abbasi.
“We wanted him. We needed him so bad because he’s a hard worker,” she said. But, "his behavior became really erratic. He couldn’t grasp that (the city and county) have different laws.”
Eventually it became impossible to work with him, Epps said.
About that time, Jara said, he stopped working with Abbasi professionally. They remained friends.
Abbasi visited Perez and Jara’s home, Jara said. Abbasi was privy to many discussions about cannabis policy and politicians that gave him a window into the behind-the-scenes political world of the city and county.
It's clear from his communications, that Abbasi now believes that political influence and political money are the only ways to get what you want out of government.
He is accusing Perez and Jara of being in a pot-powered war with Supervisor Mike Maggard that is marked by backroom dealing.
— this story was changed to clarify the work that Abbasi paid Jara for in Dec. 2016.