The Kern County Planning Commission voted Thursday night to permit and regulate commercial marijuana in Kern County.
Now it sends that recommendation to the Kern County Board of Supervisors for its consideration on Oct. 24.
Commissioner Melissa Poole said the county doesn’t have the resources to enforce a ban on recreational cannabis.
“I’m concerned about the implications of a ban and the ability of code enforcement and law enforcement (to enforce) a ban,” she said.
Commissioner Chad Louie supported a ban and voted against the motion to approve regulation.
“Of absolute primary concern is the public health, safety and welfare,” he said.
And there is one group he was most concerned about.
“That group of people has to be children, teens and young adults," Louie said.
He said the federal government still considers marijuana a serious drug and it has health risks for children.
But Commissioner Xochitl Garcia rejected Louie’s reasoning.
Trying to say that allowing dispensaries will result in more children getting access to marijuana, she said, “is like saying because we have bars in Kern County we have minors who are under the influence of alcohol.”
Garcia said Kern County can’t just stick its head in the sand and deny the changes Proposition 64 will bring because it doesn’t like marijuana and feels it is morally wrong.
Oil jobs are going away and Kern County needs the more than 8,000 good paying jobs that a regulated commercial marijuana industry are projected to bring to Kern County.
“I think regulation is the best way to protect health, safety and welfare,” Commissioner Chris Babcock said. “If it goes unregulated these fine sheriffs are going to have the same challenges they have now and it's only going to get worse.”
Regulating and taxing marijuana will give the county the chance to combat illegal marijuana and its community impact.
“I think it would give a better chance to keep the drugs away from the kids,” Babcock said.
Supervisors took action after a long public hearing in which passionate speakers on both sides of the issue argued their case.
But first Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Director Lorelei Oviatt laid out the history of Kern County’s long struggle to regulate and control medical marijuana.
“For the last 18 years the county has tried to manage this new industry with mixed results and no help from the state and little help from the courts,” she said.
Now, with Proposition 64’s approval of recreational marijuana, the state has developed strict regulations for marijuana going forward.
The county, if it chooses, can add additional land use regulations to limit where businesses that cultivate, process, test and sell marijuana can locate.
A study map provided by the Planning Department shows several large spots in metropolitan Bakersfield — around Meadows Field Airport, in east Oildale, near Highway 58 and Weedpatch Highway and around Lamont — where cannabis businesses could locate.
Right now the marijuana businesses are here — more than 120 dispensaries operate in Kern County.
The only way to combat those illegal shops is to regulate it and use the money a tax will generate to fight bad uses.
“We will have people using this in Kern County whether we ban it or not,” she told commissioners. “Make this industry become part of the normal business practices.”
But speakers who favored a ban were passionate about what they believe is marijuana’s terrible impact on people.
Max Van Dyke, the pastor of Christ Cathedral Church, urged the county to approve a ban.
“We have to continue to stand for the greater good of Kern County. Legalizing use by adults increases the use by minors,” Van Dyke said.
He argued smoking marijuana is bad for heath.
“We think it's a very bad idea for our community as a whole. Please do not think about how much revenue this would bring to the county coffers,” said Reveral Ramon Vera.
Other speakers urged the county to help medical patients deal with their illnesses.
“Don’t punish the people who need it,” said Sarah Johnson. “Please consider regulating it for the people who do need it.”
Serenity Hansford said she was diagnosed with degenerative disk disease and a massive panic disorder.
She said she wasn’t able to function on pain medication and antidepressants that she was given to deal with it.
With medical marijuana she is able to take care of herself and her mother.
“I encourage the board to take the bull by the horn and be proactive,” said attorney Gabe Godinez. “The regulation makes sense. The regulation is fair. The regulation is a little heavy-handed on the tax side. But it is acceptable.”
Dirk Voss urged the commission to take control over how marijuana is handled in Kern County.
“The cannabis is going to be here whether you like it or not,” Voss said.
The question, he said, is whether the county wants cannabis to be sold from “Snoop Dog stores” or the “Apple Stores.”
Regulating cannabis, he argued, will turn a Snoop Dog industry into an Apple Store industry.