The Kern County Board of Supervisors delayed taking action on a proposal that could lead to the ban on medical marijuana dispensaries being overturned at Tuesday’s meeting.
A large crowd of marijuana advocates had attended the meeting with the intention of speaking on the topic, but their comments were not heard after the board voted to continue the proposal to next Tuesday’s meeting.
Instead, the crowd angrily streamed outside the board chambers and stood in the lobby of the County Administrative Center for several minutes, discussing the possible implications of the board’s action.
“I think after seeing such a large turnout of people today, ready to speak on this matter, chanting in the streets — we were marching just earlier — and the message was, ‘don’t split the vote, don’t split the vote,” said medical marijuana advocate David Abbasi.
He said around 50 people had attended a protest held an hour before the meeting outside Kern County Superior Court. The protestors objected to any action proposed by county officials. Instead, they placed their hopes in a ballot measure submitted by Abbasi and Cecilia Latu, which has qualified for the March 2020 ballot.
Supporters of the initiative say it will overturn the ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in a way that is fair to the people by taking the power of approving or disapproving of each individual dispensary away from the Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Department.
The Planning Department had said in a report to supervisors that the initiative would allow too many dispensaries to open in Kern County, claiming that as many as 60 would be allowed to reopen.
Abbasi disputed the Planning Department’s claim, saying between 20 to 30 dispensaries would be allowed to return under the regulations put forward by his initiative.
Under the initiative, all cannabis dispensaries that could prove they were open and properly zoned before Jan. 1, 2018 would be allowed to reopen throughout unincorporated Kern County.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Planning Department was scheduled to propose supervisors place an alternative initiative on the ballot. A report to supervisors said the proposed initiative would require dispensaries to obtain a conditional use permit, which requires public notice and a public hearing before the Planning Department.
Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said at the meeting she had received numerous questions about the proposal and was not prepared to present it on Tuesday. She recommended the board continue the item for a week, which the supervisors voted to do.
Supervisors had already been considering continuing the proposal to accommodate Supervisor Mike Maggard who was not present because he had jury duty.
Medical marijuana dispensaries have been banned in the county since supervisors voted to ban sales of the drug in October 2017. However, around 30 dispensaries were allowed to remain open up until May 24 to recoup costs associated with running their businesses.
Although consumption of both recreational and medicinal marijuana remains legal throughout the county, only the incorporated cities of Arvin and California City allow sales of the product within their boundaries.
Since May 24, no dispensary has been allowed to operate in unincorporated county areas, bringing to a halt many businesses that had operated in that area.
The issue has resulted in much opposition within the county’s marijuana industry. On Tuesday, protestors vowed to return to future meetings.
“Until they have this meeting, we will continue to show up,” said advocate TJ Esposito. “The people have already spoken. We already have our initiative.”