Council supports county option to ban marijuana

Council supports county option to  ban marijuanaBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

As valley residents sporting “legalize it” shirts and carrying signs advocating for marijuana filled the Ridgecrest City Council chambers Wednesday night, it was clear that the county cannabis ordinance would be the evening’s main item of discussion.

The item in question was whether or not the city would send a letter to the Kern County Planning Commission approving the ban of “all commercial cannabis production, sale and products,” as recommended by staff.

After more than an hour of public input – mostly from medical marijuana users pleading with council to support continued local use – council unanimously voted to draft the letter supporting a cannabis ban, with Mayor Peggy Breeden absent from the vote.

Breeden, still recovering from cancer treatments and a major surgery late last month, exited the meeting just before the discussion began. She handed off the gavel to Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mower for the remainder of the meeting.

“I recommend we approve the letter banning all marijuana cultivation and sales in Kern County,” said Councilmember Wallace Martin. “I could never use a well-known human vice as a toll for economic development.

“The adverse affects of pot, especially on younger, developing minds, are empirically proven. At the very least, folks, it makes people lethargic and destroys motivation. I think we can all agree on a few things since we all know someone who smokes regularly. Heavy users are slower on the uptake, their memory is shot and they are much less motivated. Period.”

He said he agreed that there are proven positives for medical marijuana, but that regulation and enforcement of the product has been a “dismal failure.”

“I think this is a matter of massive importance and it should be voted on by the entire population,” he said.

Member of the public and medical user Jordan Jarvis emphatically agreed that it should be put to a vote.

The staff report, presented Acting Chief of Police Jed McLaughlin, cited several other reasons for supporting the ban – primarily a lack of resources to combat increased crime at dispensary locations and easier access to marijuana by local youth.

According to McLaughlin, cannabis distributors are primarily “cash and carry” businesses in part because cannabis is still illegal under federal law, which makes traditional banking difficult.

“Discussions with investigators with the California Narcotics Officers Association have shown a higher propensity of robberies and violent crimes at dispensaries and marijuana cultivation sites in Northern California,” he said.

The agenda also cites information from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Tracking Area report regarding increased teen marijuana use and crime in Colorado and Washington where cannabis has been legalized statewide.

According to the report, teen use in Colorado is 74 percent higher than the national average, and one in six teens who regularly use marijuana will become addicted.

One public commenter, East Kern County resident Anthony Espindola, criticized the use of the Rocky Mountain report, saying it was “very biased” with “lots of holes.” He noted that both Forbes and the Los Angeles Times had “scathing” reviews of the report.

“Currently there are 4,000 registered medical marijuana patients in Ridgecrest,” he said. “Some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

He said they are using marijuana as an alternative to opiates to treat epilepsy, cancer, depression, PTSD, back pain and other ailments.

“Medical marijuana use drops opiate deaths by 25 percent. Without marijuana these people are going to have to drive 120 miles to get safe and affordable access.”

He added that alternatively, they will turn to local street dealers to get the marijuana they believe they need.

Some dozen local users also commented about the need for local access.

“I’m an epileptic and have used cannabis as my sole medicine for the last five months,” said Michael Rice. “No medicines are currently used explicitly for epilepsy. The United Epilepsy Foundation recommends cannabis as having great medical utility for people who suffer from epilepsy.”

He added that he went from having roughly five grand mal seizures per month to one in the last four months since he got his medical marijuana card.

“I was diagnosed at 16 and have never been able to drive. Forcing me to go elsewhere to obtain my medication would be a great burden.”

Others criticized Martin’s generalization that pot use made people lethargic and unmotivated.

“I’m a recreational marijuana user. I don’t use it for medical purposes” said Joe Hunter, who said he’s been smoking for 10 years.

“In that time, I got a bachelor’s degree and I got a 4.0 in my major. Are you familiar with Shakes-peare? ‘And what’s he then that says I play the villain? When this advice is free I give, and honest.’ That’s Iago’s speech from ‘Othello.’ I memorized it and performed it on stage while I was high. There’s 1,000 lines of Shakespeare in that. So I don’t really think you can say that it’s something that kills your memory.”

Hunter admitted that his points were anecdotal, but said that many of Martin’s accusations were anecdotal as well.

“I also think it’s morally reprehensible to withhold medicine that helps people get off of worse drugs,” he added before leaving the stand.

Member of the public Mike Neel agreed that the county and city should oppose recreational use and cultivation. But he said he believed “there’s a place for medical marijuana dispensaries,” and the county should figure out how to have them properly regulated.

All of the councilmembers said they sympathize with the medical users, but in the the best interest of the city, specifically its youth, they voted to support the ban.

“It’s really alarming to hear what’s happening at our school campuses,” said Councilmember Lindsey Stephens, who reported that pot products designed to look like candy peach rings and Cheetos chips are being passed around among young students.

She added that despite current regulations, illegal dispensaries without business licenses are still popping up in the valley.

“It’s not a tax thing or a money thing with me,” said Vice Mayor Eddie Thomas.

“I feel that I need to do the best I can for the younger people that are coming up. I have the unique position of dealing with young people who experience addictions. A lot of them have stated that [marijuana] was the entryway for some of them to get involved with worse substances.”

At press time, city officials were still unclear on how a ban on “retail” would affect medical distribution.

The hearing by the County Planning Commission is Sept. 28, 7 p.m., in Bakersfield. Citizens with more questions or concerns are encouraged to attend the hearing.

For more information see pcd.kerndsa.com/planning.

The full content of the county’s planning document outlining options to ban or regulate can be viewed at pcd.kerndsa.com/marijuana-land-use.

Pictured: City Council’s consideration of writing a letter urging Kern County officials to ban cannabis for cultivation and sale in unincorporated areas draws a bigger crowd than usual in the audience and at the public microphone. -- Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2017-09-08