Just weeks after Kern County supervisors approved an outright ban on commercial cannabis, officials have started the process of developing rules that would allow marijuana businesses to deliver the drug to medical patients in the county.
The idea was forwarded by Supervisor Mike Maggard, one of the loudest and most consistent voices on the board against retail marijuana.
He said the board doesn’t want to create a situation where patients can’t get the drug they rely on to manage their illness.
But opponents of the ban question if that’s really the reason the county is making the move. And they're planning their response to the ban itself.
Supervisors could have proposed the delivery system last month during a massive day-long meeting to debate whether the cultivation, testing, processing and distribution of cannabis would be allowed and regulated – or banned – in unincorporated Kern County.
But the eyes of the community were on them and there was pressure from religious leaders to shut the door on marijuana, opponents said.
So they did.
“They were so hard-core on banning this thing,” said attorney Gabe Godinez who has dueled with the county over previous regulatory schemes – and won.
“They could have pursued medical only,” he said. “Now there’s going to be a political backlash. We need (elected) people who are going to be willing to take educated and calculated risk.”
Godinez sees Maggard’s call for a medical delivery service as an attempt to backtrack on the ban and blunt the edge of opposition to the county and supervisors from the medical marijuana community.
Those patients said the ban will force them to travel long distances or flirt with the black market to get the medicine they’re entitled to by state law.
Godinez said several avenues are being explored to challenge the county ban.
He’s a proponent of a special election initiative that would allow the voters of Kern County to overrule supervisors and put a formal regulatory scheme – maybe something like the plan Kern County planning director offered to supervisors in October - into place.
The ban itself is likely to be challenged as well, Godinez said.
“I think there is going to be a legal challenge, he said. “I hope there isn’t because I would like to funnel all of our efforts into an initiative.”
There could also be a legal referendum against the ban which would force supervisors to freeze the ban and either take the issue to a vote of the public or draft a new cannabis regulation plan.
So far that legal challenge hasn’t emerged, said Kern County Counsel Mark Nations.
The Kern County Registrar of Voters hasn’t been asked about what it would take to get a referendum petition in order and collect the required number of signatures to stop the ban.
And neither has Nations, he said.
The deadline to get the petition signed and approved is rapidly approaching. Everything has to be in to the Registrar of Voters by Nov. 27, Nations said.
As for the mobile marijuana rules that Maggard is looking for, Nations said his office is working on that as well.
“I’m hoping to report back on that on Dec. 5,” Nations said.
Under state law a business can open that will deliver medical marijuana directly to patients or caregivers.
“It does have to be out of a brick and mortar location. It has to have an address,” Nations said. “It can be closed to the public and they can transact solely through delivery. They can’t have any walk-up business.”
That will be the structure he’ll be recommending to supervisors who will – if the approve of the structure – would need to direct him to create a formal county ordinance which could be approved at a later time.
“If you wanted to do this, this would be what it would look like,” Nations said.
Where would the marijuana for the buisinesses come from since the county has banned the cultivation of marijuana?
“Under the state statute they could receive their product from another (state) licensee,” Nations said. “Whatever jurisdiction allows cultivation would be able to deliver it.”
Godinez said the county is handing over huge amounts of local money to the city of Arvin and California City, and growers in other surrounding counties.
Ultimately, he said, the county missed a chance to do exactly what supervisors said they wanted to – control the marijuana shops that are open around the county.
“I live in this community. I want it regulated. I want it taxed,” Godinez said. “I don’t want to drive down the street and pass a building painted neon green and have my son ask me, ‘Daddy why is that place painted green.’”