Across Kern County, medical marijuana users are flocking to dispensaries in anticipation of a ban set by the Kern County Board of Supervisors.
Although both Arvin and California City allow sales of marijuana within city limits, a ban on sales in unincorporated Kern County goes into effect on Friday, and all shops within that area must close by midnight in order to be in compliance with the law.
“A lot of people are coming in with a lot of questions, wondering what happened,” said Steve Duce, owner of Budville, a medical marijuana dispensary in metro Bakersfield. “Collectively, their responses would be, ‘I thought cannabis was already legal and we didn’t need to do anything else.’”
He said business had increased since last Friday, with many people ordering large bulks of cannabis in anticipation of the ban.
While both recreational and medical use of marijuana is legal throughout California, multiple cities and counties, including Bakersfield, have instituted blanket bans on sales of the product, citing public safety and health concerns.
The county voted to ban marijuana sales in October of 2017, allowing around 30 medical dispensaries to remain open to recoup costs associated with bringing their businesses up to code.
After a series of appeals and hearings, which came about as the dispensaries tried to fight for more time to remain open, there’s no more question as to which dispensaries are allowed to remain open. They all must close.
At random points next week, the Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Department will check to ensure the dispensaries have closed down, Director Lorelei Oviatt said.
Any dispensary operators or property owners caught in violation could face a $1,000 misdemeanor fine and possibly imprisonment for up to six months, she said.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Office has also prepared for the ban. The narcotics unit will be tasked with physically enforcing the ban if any problems arise.
“We’re going to have to go out and enforce (the ban) if people decide they are not going to close down and not follow the law,” Commander Adam Plugge said. “It’s not going to be a hands-off approach.”
However, some dispensary owners may decide to flout the law and remain open, choosing to accept the relatively small fine in order to continue servicing the Kern County market.
Duce said he would wait until 8 a.m. on Saturday to decide whether or not he would shut down as the ban mandated.
“We’re just going to watch what everybody else does,” he said. “I’ve always been by the books so probably I will close.”
But even if all the dispensaries shut down, that doesn’t mean people won’t still be buying marijuana in Kern County.
“People will just go back to the streets, and the black market will be thriving,” said local medical marijuana advocate David Abbasi. “So there will still be access.”
Last fall, Abbasi successfully gathered enough signatures to qualify an initiative for the March 2020 ballot.
The initiative would partly overturn the county’s ban, only allowing medical marijuana dispensaries that had been in operation before Jan. 1 2018 to reopen.
Some see the initiative as the best hope for bringing medical marijuana back to unincorporated Kern County.
“I feel really confident that it’s going to pass in March,” Abbasi said.
Both recreational and medicinal marijuana deliveries are allowed to addresses within Kern County and Bakersfield.
Delivery businesses in California City are preparing to open, to provide cannabis not only to Kern County, but the surrounding region.
The Board of Supervisors are planning to hear a report prepared by the Planning Department on the ballot initiative in June. During the meeting, the board is scheduled to consider alternatives to the initiative.