Marijuana shops and farms: ban or regulate?

County supervisors hear report, to make ruling at future meeting

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Marijuana shops and farms: ban or regulate?Although no action was taken, the Kern County Board of Supervisors heard a staff report — as well as community input — relating to whether Kern should ban or regulate the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana in unincorporated areas of the county.

While proponents of the regulatory option point to the enormous potential for revenue marijuana presents to the county, critics point to incidents of violence that have historically made the cash-driven industry a frequent target for crime.

Lorelei Oviatt, director of planning and natural resource management for the county, opened by briefing the board on the complicated history of marijuana legality in California. Although Proposition 215 allowed for medical use of cannabis, the state did not provide any licensing or oversight.

“So for 18 years, the county has attempted to manage this new industry with uneven results, no support from the state and limited support from the courts,” said Oviatt.

With the passage of Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana for adult use last November, the county now has a few short weeks to determine whether farms and dispensaries should be regulated or banned — before the state law automatically takes effect Jan. 1.

She noted that municipalities such as Bakersfield and Ridgecrest, which have adopted their own ordinances, will not be impacted.

Comprehensive options to ban or regulate are available for public perusal at pcd.kerndsa.com/marijuana-land-use.

If the board opts to ban cultivation and sale, all prior ordinances would be repealed. The option would also restrict cultivation and use in public places. A task force will also be established to shift the county from a complaint-driven to a proactive system of enforcement.

The regulatory option would also repeal previous ordinances, as well as apply conditions that would limit the size and number of developments and keep institutions away from schools parks, daycare centers, youth centers and city limits.

Oviatt noted that state regulations also impose independent lab testing of cannabis, as well as a track-and-trace program from seed to sale in order to keep illegal cannabis from dispensaries and prevent the product from leaving the state.

Cannabis fields would also be exempt from the reduced property taxes currently offered to traditional agricultural lands.

With new taxes and fees, Oviatt noted, allowing regulated cultivation and sale could yield a significant new revenue stream that would feed into the county’s general fund, public safety budgets and school districts. County voters also have the option of imposing a sales tax that could generate another $10 million by conservative estimates.

Based on numbers generated by Colorado’s recent commercialization of marijuana, Oviatt said the “labor-intensive” endeavor could also create 8,750 more full-time jobs in the county.

Public comment was mixed, although most expressed support for the regulatory option. Those speakers noted that regulation ensures consumer protection for the user and potentially keeps the trade out of the hands of criminals.

One resident noted that child poisoning incidents spiked after Colorado enacted legalization and cited incidents of ingesting “edible” marijuana infused into cookies and candies.

Oviatt noted that many of these products are also restricted under state guidelines.

Supervisor David Couch said he was interested in exploring the possibility of matching the county’s ordinance to reflect the desires of cities — thereby keeping facilities away from areas that have already banned it. Oviatt said that will be analyzed and brought back before the board.

Supervisor Mick Gleason asked if the county could solicit a statement from the American Medical Association about the health impacts of marijuana. Oviatt said that there has not been adequate time for study and that results are contradictory.

She said she is also working with the sheriff’s office to get a report on crime in the areas where dispensaries are located.

Supervisor Mike Maggard asked Oviatt why she believed the county would be successful in regulating the industry now when it has not been successful before.

“Before there were no state regulations,” she said. With California anticipating a $5-billion industry yielding $1 billion in new taxes, the state now has a commitment and interest in eliminating illegal operations.

“I can be told all day long that we will have a plan and it will work, but I have little confidence it will be effective. Before I can proceed on this, I need a lot more reassurance,” said Maggard.

He noted that dispensaries have been hot spots for crime. “That is of paramount concern to me.

“Multiple murders, attempted murders, strong-arm robberies, kidnappings, tortures, gun fights … the most significant question in my mind is whether I want these in the neighborhoods I represent.”

Story First Published: 2017-08-25