The fate of commercial marijuana comes to the Kern County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
The decision is going to be tough.
Most of what county residents have seen of retail marijuana, since California’s Compassionate Use Act legalized the drug as a medicine in 1996, is a flood of sketchy shops that often attracted crime.
So Kern County supervisors will struggle with whether to ban commercial cannabis in the unincorporated areas of the county or allow and regulate it.
Kern County Planning and Natural Resources staff, and the Kern County Planning Commission on a 3-1 vote, have recommended that supervisors permit businesses to come into the county under a tough regulatory scheme and grow, test, process and sell marijuana to the adults who are now allowed to own and use it under California law.
They argue that the county can improve the current marijuana situation by limiting the number of businesses, controlling where they can go, taxing them and using the money to aggressively manage the downsides of the drug’s present
But City of Bakersfield officials and public-safety minded citizens are calling for a ban.
"The (Kern County) Young Republicans are calling upon the Kern County Board of Supervisors to vote in favor of ‘Option A’ and support a ban on recreational marijuana sales in the Kern County," wrote the group’s Vice Chairman Javier Reyes Jr. in a Friday memo.
The city and county can’t, however, ban recreational marijuana.
It is all over Kern County.
Currently, Kern County Planning Directior Lorelei Oviatt told the Planning Commission earlier this month, marijuana sellers ignore the law, open where they will, close at the first sign of conflict and pop up days later in a different location.
Kern County Counsel Mark Nations said it’s very difficult to close these kinds of disreputable business.
Even a ban, Oviatt said, won’t stop them.
Nations said the criminal penalties are too weak and the administrative fines too limited to discourage the marijuana sellers from simply moving down the street to open another shop where they can rake in cash from the sale of marijuana.
Oviatt points to the city of Bakersfield, where she estimates 60 to 80 shops are in operation despite the fact they are illegal within the city limits.
All banning the shops does, she argues, is give Kern County what they have now.
Dispensaries, for most of Bakersfield’s contentious history with legal medical marijuana, have been slap-dash hash houses shoved into hastily modified strip mall slots, industrial spaces or empty commercial buildings in some of the city’s roughest corners.
Some business-minded dispensary owners have tried to operate more respectable shops and cooperate with law enforcement and code compliance officers.
But outright bans in the city of Bakersfield and a constantly shifting set of county rules have closed many of those shops and discouraged their owners.
What’s left, according to Kern County Sheriff’s data and reports from the Bakersfield Police Department, is dangerous.
Police, on Monday and Tuesday, served search warrants on 10 marijuana shops in the city of Bakersfield.
Twenty people were arrested. Police say they recovered 15 grams of rock cocaine and four handguns. Shops were stealing electrical power from nearby structures.
And one man fatally shot himself when police showed up.
The current situation is a mess, county officials have stated.
Regulation could fix it, county planning officials argue, forcing marijuana out of the shadows and holding the people who want to grow, process and sell it accountable for operating in a way that minimizes the threat to the public.
Three of the four voting members of the Kern County Planning Commission bought that argument two weeks ago and voted for regulation.
"I think regulation is the best way to protect health, safety and welfare, " said Commissioner Chris Babcock. "Going with option B (regulation) will actually protect the community. It will give (us) a better chance to keep the drugs away from the kids."
Supervisors, on Tuesday morning, will decide whether they agree.
The meeting will be held at 9 a.m. in the Kern County Board of Supervisors Chambers on the first floor of the County Administrative Center at 1115 Truxtun Ave.