Two marijuana ballot measures will compete for votes during March’s election, stoking concerns that neither will pass.
On Tuesday, the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved adding a measure to March’s ballot that would overturn a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated county areas.
The county developed the measure itself, in contrast to a slightly different ballot measure written by a local group of marijuana advocates, the Central Valley Cannabis Association.
Both the county and the local advocates claim their own measures will provide more equitable access to marijuana for medical patients that use the drug. However, proponents fear that placing two marijuana questions on the ballot will lead to confusion by voters.
“Splitting the vote would increase the chances of both measures failing,” said Cecilia Latu, a proponent of Central Valley Cannabis’ initiative.
She urged supervisors not to add their measure to the ballot. But supervisors, which voted 4-0, with Supervisor Leticia Perez absent, seemed confident their measure could pass.
In its measure, county officials hope to create a “blank slate” for new dispensaries to open, while Central Valley Cannabis’ measure would only allow dispensaries to return that had been open before Jan. 1, 2018.
“My interest is solely to supply a patient-focused effort to deliver some medicine to someone in need,” Supervisor Mick Gleason said during the meeting. “I’ve been sold on the fact that it is effective medicine to certain patients, and I want to create in Kern County a place where these patients can go and get their medicine.”
The county’s measure would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in parts of the county zoned for industrial use. A conditional use permit would be required, which would give the public a chance to weigh in on any new dispensaries. And the county would enforce a 1,000 foot setback from areas like schools and parks.
But while the county’s ordinance would allow for a new wave of dispensary owners to apply for permits, Central Valley Cannabis fought against it.
Local advocate David Abbasi spoke alongside other members of the association, accusing the supervisors of being “slimy” for adding their own initiative to the ballot.
“We are going to challenge this basically before it even gets to the ballot,” Abbasi said of the county’s measure. “So you can expect some sort of legal challenge.”
Central Valley Cannabis’ ordinance would allow many of the medical dispensaries that had been open before the ban went into effect to reopen.
The county said in an analysis that if the measure passed many of the dispensaries would be clustered in Rosamond and Oildale. As many as 60 dispensaries could open as a result of the measure passing, the county said, a number that has been disputed by Central Valley Cannabis.
Last November, voters saw as many as three marijuana measures on the ballot. All of them failed, which advocates say resulted from confusion.
Those same advocates hope history will not repeat itself in March, when voters will take another crack at bringing marijuana dispensaries back to Kern County.