Cannabis measures approved for March primary ballot

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Cannabis measures approved for March primary ballotTwo initiatives aimed at overturning Kern County’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas will appear on the March Primary Ballot.

The measure passed 4-0 Tuesday by the Kern County Board of Supervisors endeavors to begin a blank slate for applicants, while the initiative championed by the Central Valley Cannabis Association would prioritize dispensaries established before the January 2018 ban was implemented.

Many municipalities — including Ridgecrest — have banned both medical and recreational dispensaries. The county passed an ordinance to ban dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county, and two measures to expand operations for cannabis sales failed in November 2018.

The county’s new proposal would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas zoned for industrial use. The item allows for a 1,000-foot setback from schools and parks and requires a conditional-use permit for approval.

1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason said that he believes cannabis is effective for certain patients, and he wants to allow access in Kern County for residents seeking that treatment.

“My interest is solely to supply a patient-focused effort to deliver some medicine to someone in need.”

Although the availability of marijuana — recreational or medical — for purchase has been highly contested since California began the process of legalization, even Central Valley cannabis growers expressed opposition to the county proposal on the grounds that it unfairly penalized previously established dispensaries.

Those advocates also stated that — similar to results from the 2018 election — having dueling ballot measures would confuse voters and potentially dilute support for both initiatives.

The Ridgecrest City Council, with the support of its past two police chiefs, has continued to restrict cultivation and sale of marijuana, regardless of use. At least two dispensaries have cropped up just outside of city limits and have subsequently been shut down with the countywide ban.

City Manager Ron Strand said that, as far as he knows, the council does not have any plans to revisit the issue. “That does not mean, however, that someone cannot open up a dispensary outside of city limits,” if either initiative is approved.

Law enforcement leaders throughout the county have opposed dispensaries because of the risks that accompany store fronts. Because the state and federal laws surrounding marijuana use are in conflict, traditional banking systems cannot be used in transactions. The cash-and-carry nature of the businesses in Bakersfield historically attracts higher-than-average crime rates.

“Criminals know there’s a lot of cash on hand at those operations, and that makes them a target,” said RPD Chief Jed McLaughlin.

“Our department can’t control what happens outside of the city, but if dispensaries are allowed to open up that definitely increases the risks to our community” because of our proximity to areas affected, and our remoteness from the metropolitan areas where the other law-enforcement services are centralized, he said.

Story First Published: 2019-10-18