MARIJUANA

In this file photo, the green cross and arrow point the way to one of several medical marijuana dispensaries in Bakersfield.

Voters in Bakersfield will get the opportunity this November to overturn a citywide ban on medicinal marijuana shops.

The Bakersfield City Council approved a resolution this week allowing the initiative to appear on the ballot.

In October 2016, a medical marijuana advocacy group submitted 32,790 signatures to the city. That number represented more than double the amount of signatures required to get an initiative on the ballot.

However, the submission by the Kern Citizens for Patient Rights missed the deadline for that year’s election, but remained eligible for the upcoming November election.

After analyzing a statistically 3 percent random sampling of the signatures, the City Clerk’s Office determined the petition to be valid.

The City Council then had the option to either adopt the ordinance put forward by the initiative, which would have overturned the city ban on medicinal marijuana, or put the matter to voters.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the council chose to let voters decide.

As a result, the question that will appear on the ballot is: “Shall the City of Bakersfield adopt the following law: Shall the measure amending the Bakersfield Municipal Code to allow medical marijuana store front dispensaries, cultivation sites, manufacturers, distributors, and delivery operations with a valid permit, and which will impose a 7.5 percent excise tax that will last until terminated by voters, [based on current information fiscal impact is unknown] be adopted?”

The excise tax, should the initiative be approved, would go to the city general fund to be used at the council's discretion. 

After the largely procedural vote by the council, leading members of the KCPR said they would prepare to launch an information campaign in advance of the election.

“One of the most important things for us moving forward is to provide information to the community,” said Jeff Jarvis, president of the Kern Citizens for Patient Rights. “I think there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.”

The council authorized the Bakersfield Residents Against Pot Shops to file a written argument against the initiative, with Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan as a co-signer.

Arguments for and against the initiative are due to the City Clerk’s Office by July 5.

But that’s not all that’s happening in Kern County when it comes to medical marijuana store legalization.

A separate ballot initiative is currently being tallied by the County of Kern. That initiative, also brought forward by the KCPR, will ask voters to overturn a moratorium on medical marijuana shops operating from locations in the county.

Currently, only 28 medicinal marijuana shops are allowed to operate in Kern County. Those shops were grandfathered in to the system after the county established a moratorium on any new shops in 2017.

The licenses for the legally operating medicinal shops will expire Nov. 28, meaning those shops will be forced to close if the county takes no action or the ballot initiative fails.

The Kern Citizens for Patient Rights submitted more than 20,000 signatures to the county for the county initiative, according to Jarvis.

If the signatures are approved, it means Bakersfield residents may be asked twice on the ballot to legalize medical marijuana shops.

KCPR board member Heather Epps said she hoped both initiatives would complement one another. Each initiative will address a separate ban.

The next step for the group will be to try to convince voters to support the initiatives.

“We have a campaign office and we have our ducks in a row in terms of that,” Epps said.

The ordinances that would be approved by the ballot measures include language that would regulate where medicinal marijuana shops can go and what types of businesses can obtain a permit.

Jarvis said he hopes voters will go for the regulations put forward by the group.

“We will be vocal in the sense that we will be trying to demonstrate to the community that cannabis isn’t something they need to be afraid of,” he said. “It’s something like any other business. It needs to be properly regulated.”

Sam Morgen can be reached at 661-395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @smorgenTBC.

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