Kern County banned commercial cannabis Tuesday.
Four of the five county supervisors said they did not want to be party to the permitting and regulation of an industry that wields such a destructive impact on the communities they represent.
“The vast majority of the pot shops in the greater Bakersfield area are in Oildale,” said Supervisor Mike Maggard.
He said his people, the residents and businesses in the poorest areas of his district, are being disproportionately impacted by marijuana dispensaries.
Maggard said suggesting that he allow an industry that has victimized his constituents for years to operate legally, simply for the money it might represent to county coffers, is offensive to him.
“I can’t turn my back on the neighborhoods I represent,” he said.
Supervisor Mick Gleason also supported the ban, but cautioned people not to expect that it will remove marijuana from Kern County.
“The decision before this board is not whether you’re going to have marijuana in your neighborhood, because you are,” he said.
That ship sailed when Proposition 64 was approved by California voters in November, he said. Prop. 64 legalized adult recreational possession and use of marijuana throughout the state.
Gleason said his constituents wanted a ban.
“I think that in District 1, every city council person I talked to, and every city in my district, has banned it,” Gleason said. “Every school administrator said, ‘ban it.’”
He said he is willing to compromise with anything as long as it has the word “ban” in it.
“For Mick Gleason, this is not a financial decision,” Gleason said. “We want to swing this county on values.”
Supervisor Leticia Perez voted against the motion, saying she was interested in finding a compromise that would allow medical marijuana patients to retain access to the drug.
Tuesday’s decision kicks off a year-long period in which the 28 medical marijuana dispensaries currently operating legally in Kern County would be gradually phased out.
But the county doesn’t expect this to be the final word on the issue.
“I believe the most prudent course of action is to adopt option A, which is a ban,” Supervisor David Couch said.
But Couch noted that the marijuana industry has promised a referendum to overturn any county ban. Tuesday's action, therefore, doesn't put an end the issue.
“This may actually be the beginning,” Couch said.
County Counsel Mark Nations said opponents of the ban have at least three ways to fight Tuesday’s decision in the weeks ahead.
A group could gather signatures for a referendum and, if they gathered roughly 10,600 signatures, the supervisors’ ban would be halted, Nations said.
That's exactly what happened in 2011 when supervisors tried to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.
If it happens again supervisors would be forced to decide whether to rescind the ban ordinance or put the issue to a vote of the public.
Opponents of the ban could also attempt to get their own measure on a future ballot and ask the public to trump the Board of Supervisors’ action and eliminate the ban, Nations said.
Or, he said, the county could be sued over Tuesday's decision.
The supervisors’ decision came after a hours of consideration that started just after 9 a.m. and ended just before 3:30 p.m., after a small break for lunch.
Public speakers on both sides of the discussion shared passionate thoughts about the impact that marijuana has on their communities. Steve Peterson of the Mission of Kern County read a letter stating that an increase in ease of access to marijuana would cause an increase in homelessness and criminal activity in Kern County.
Dan Morski of Rosamond opposed the ban, supporting regulations.
He said his city has been inundated with medical marijuana dispensaries — around 18 shops in the small community, he said.
Regulation would reduce that to two.
If the Sheriff can use money from the pot shops to control their impact then Morski is for it.
“Obviously banning doesn’t work,” he said. “We’ve had 10 shops come up in the past year.”
Robin Shive, a school administrator in the Kern River Valley, said marijuana is rowing within 500 feet of her school. Pot is coming into the school and causing reductions in school performance and other social problems, she argued.
Gary Lowe of Bakersfield said he and a family of friends are working on developing a line of infused products that are used not to get high but to address chronic illnesses.
“Let’s regulate this and get the bad actors out of here,” Lowe said.
David Abbasi, of a Central Valley marijuana advocacy group, said that many of the claims of opponents of marijuana are outdated and the county needs to remember it has been down this road before.
“We are ready to respond with a legal challenge" to the ban, he said.
Attorney Gabriel Godinez, who won some of the marijuana cases against the county, urged supervisors to control the county’s destiny by making use of the tax money to control the problems that are already in Kern County.
“If we go for a ban we’re the Lone Ranger. We’ve got to pay for the task force,” he said.
Patricia Leal, who works with a social justice group in southeast Bakersfield, said that, after initial concern about permitting commercial cannabis, they supported the regulatory scheme the county planning department had proposed.
She said Rexland Acres has five dispensaries and all of the group’s efforts to work with Kern County Code Enforcement to get rid of them have been unsuccessful.
It is the need to protect the community and its youth from marijuana that convinced her to support Option B to permit commercial cannabis and regulate it.
Pastors talked about watching marijuana help destroy lives and families.
The county shouldn’t be involved in that, argued Canyon Hills Assembly of God Pastor Wendell Vinson.
“This is about one thing, whether the county will get involved in the pot business,” he said “It’s a sleazy business.”
Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt had laid out four options for Supervisors to consider.
In addition to the ban there was Option B, which would have been a regulatory scheme that would have allowed up to 32 legal dispensaries, 2 million square feet of indoor cultivation and 150 acres of outdoor cultivation.
A modified version of the ban in Option A would have placed a temporary ban on commercial cannabis and then placed a measure on the June 2018 ballot that would allow voters to choose between a ban or regulation.
Oviatt also offered up a modified Option B, which would have allowed regulation but created more limitations on where retail shops could go, creating setbacks from churches, limiting the shops to industrial zoning and allowing sales only to medical marijuana patients.
All of the options included a recommendation that the county, in the future, create an enforcement task force to deal with the presence of marijuana in the county.
The task force is critical in all options, Oviatt said, because county has fought for nearly two decades to regulate dispensaries under California medical marijuana laws with limited success.
County department heads laid out their concerns about how the county moves forward on medical marijuana.
Matt Constantine of the Kern County Health Department and Bill Walker of the county's Behavioral Health explained that there are significant health and mental health challenges that the community faces from marijuana whether it is banned or regulated.
Public Works Director Craig Pope said, if there is a ban, his staff won’t have the ability to fight the “whac-a-mole” game of trying to close illegal dispensaries.
"If people believe we can ban it and they will disappear, they’re wrong,” Pope said. “They’ll pop up anywhere they want. They’ll stay open at any time they want.”
But Sheriff Donny Youngblood, questioned by Perez, said, all money aside, marijuana is illegal under federal law and he’d rather enforce a ban than have the county give “people permission to go out and commit federal felonies.”
Just because something isn’t stopped by enforcing the law doesn’t mean you stop fighting the illegal activity, he said.