County considers marijuana regulation

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

County considers marijuana regulationKern County Board of Supervisors is facing options to ban or regulate commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana, with only a few months to put an ordinance in place before state law is automatically implemented Jan. 1.

Most Kern municipalities, including Ridgecrest, have opted to ban the cultivation and distribution of the previously illegal substance. The county ordinance will apply only to unincorporated areas of the county, including the areas of Indian Wells Valley outside Ridgecrest city limits.

Proponents of the regulatory option say that marijuana could be a cash crop for the county, potentially adding a new revenue stream. But opponents say concerns relating to law enforcement and water use have not been adequately addressed in county plans.

Director Lorelei Oviatt of the Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Department is overseeing the draft environmental impact report. In a related memo dated July 27, she announced a public briefing before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday Aug. 22, at 2 p.m. in the Bakersfield chambers at 1115 Truxtun Ave.

Public comments will be taken for informational purposes. Because no recommendations have yet been made by the board, stated Oviatt, no action will be taken at that meeting. The comment period for the draft environmental impact report ends Sept. 11.

A public hearing with the county’s planning commission will be held Sept. 28, also in Bakersfield.

Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens has requested that the item be added to the Sept. 6 agenda of Ridgecrest City Council.

“We already voted against allowing this in the city, but it doesn’t do us any good if the county chooses to allow it right outside city limits,” said Stephens.

She said that it seems particularly dangerous to allow the risky ventures in an area that has seen a reduced law enforcement presence from the county.

“And what about the water shortage?” Stephens added that allowing marijuana farms when other agricultural operations are being discouraged sends mixed messages.

“It also seems like the county has not put much effort into getting the word out. I hope this is not one of those issues that flies under the radar.”

Ron Strand, interim city manager, said that staff is working on a report to present to council on Sept. 6 so that members can vote to take one of three positions: a neutral stance with no action, a letter of support for regulation or a letter of support for prohibition.

“My concern is the lack of law enforcement within the county,” said Capt. Jed McLaughlin, acting police chief. Deputies are now stationed part time in the Kern River Valley area, which protracts the response time for outlying areas of the valley.

“If you look at the crime trends surrounding marijuana establishments, they are frequent targets for robbery,” he said. “So responding to calls outside our jurisdiction ties up our resources since we will have to be on the scene until county deputies arrive.”

Strand said that one of the reasons the city voted to prohibit marijuana is because all the major employees in the valley prohibit its use.

“So to that end, even having a dispensary outside city limits could be detrimental in our community.”

He added that marijuana establishments located outside city limits will not benefit municipal revenue streams — “it goes to the county, and it does not come back.”

Asked if the city would be more supportive of the regulatory option if the county increased law enforcement resources, McLaughlin responded that the city had no way to compel the county to follow through with such a request.

However, Oviatt noted that the regulatory proposal, in addition to limited cultivation and processing sites, includes fees that will yield a projected increase of $200,000 to the sheriff’s office.

That is in addition to anticipated revenues to other departments.

Oviatt noted that the second part of the discussion on regulation is the fiscal report, which shows that a simple-majority tax imposed by the voters on cannabis facilities could create up to $34.6 million a year for the general fund.

“Property taxes would apply at normal rates and generate money for special districts and schools,” she said.

The full EIR can be viewed online at www.co.kern.ca.us/

planning/eirs.asp. For more information contact Shawn Beyeler at 661-862-8614 or beyelers@kerncounty.com.

Pictured: County Planner Lorelei Oviatt at a previous meeting in Ridgecrest. -- Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2017-08-11