Following the decision by the Kern County Board of Supervisors to deny all appeals of medical cannabis dispensaries hoping to stay open past May 24, a coordinated effort is underway to ensure the businesses close as ordered.
However, as county officials seek to shut down the dispensaries, at least some of them are planning to bring a claim against the county, which could have the effect of delaying the mandatory closure date set by Kern supervisors.
The upcoming showdown over cannabis sales will pit local businesses with a long history of operating under difficult circumstances against county departments tasked with carrying out the will of the supervisors.
For its part, the county plans to move forward with plans to close down the dispensaries even in the face of pushback.
“I think that this industry has shown that they don’t respect the law,” said Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Director Lorelei Oviatt. “Therefore, the county will continue to do what we do, which is use our law enforcement.”
She said dispensaries owners that remained open past their closure date could risk arrest, and their inventory could be confiscated.
Kern County Sheriff’s Office will be involved in enforcement of the closures, she said, potentially along with the Bureau of Cannabis Control, a state agency with representatives in Kern County.
“At the end of the day, (the dispensaries) are on notice to close,” Oviatt said. “There are criminal penalties that can be brought.”
So far, three dispensaries in metro Bakersfield and three in Rosamond have been ordered to close, with 23 more slated for closure May 24.
Supervisors voted to ban all marijuana sales in the county in late 2017, but a group of around 30 dispensaries were allowed to remain open for a year to recoup costs associated with investments they had made in their businesses.
The county pushed back the date for another six months after 18 of the dispensaries filed an appeal, saying they needed more time to remain open.
The appeals ultimately failed in a series of hearings before the supervisors in February and March of this year.
Supervisors were not swayed by the arguments brought forward by the dispensaries saying they were out up to hundreds of thousands of dollars that they had put into their businesses.
In many cases, dispensaries could not prove the costs they said they had incurred, and some of the costs they included took place after the ban came into effect, which the county said was disqualifying.
The decision left many dispensaries feeling like they had been wronged.
“I think it was more of a political appeasement than a ruling on the merits,” local attorney Phil Ganong said of the supervisors’ decision to deny the appeals of the dispensaries.
Ganong represents four dispensaries that filed appeals, and he said three of those dispensaries planned to file claims against the county and potentially a lawsuit.
In the event of a lawsuit, Ganong said a judge could issue an injunction on the county’s ban while the case is being considered. That could have the effect of buying the dispensaries more time.
“A stay order could be issued by the court to keep the harm from happening to the businesses while they are pursuing their claim,” Ganong said. “I think that would be a likely approach.”
But a judge would only issue an injunction if he or she deemed it in the best interest of the people, not a guarantee in cases such as this, Oviatt countered.
“Injunctions are not automatic,” she said. “(The dispensaries) have to make their case about why it’s in the public’s best interest why they not close, rather than our finding that it’s in the public’s best interest that they close.”