Pubdate: Wed, 21 Sep 2011
Source: Bakersfield Californian, The (CA)
Copyright: 2011 The Bakersfield Californian
Author: James Burger, Californian Staff Writer


Opponents of a Kern County ordinance that would outlaw storefront
medical marijuana cooperatives and the sale of edible pot products
have blocked the law from taking effect.

The Kern County Elections Division on Wednesday verified that Kern
Citizens for Patients' Rights had collected 17,350 valid signatures
from registered Kern County voters. That's the number required to
block the bans.

Elections workers reached the 17,350 number Wednesday and stopped
counting. About 2,662 of the original 26,326 signatures submitted
remained uncounted, a cushion of support Kern Citizens didn't need.

Kern Citizens President Heather Epps anticipated a jubilant group
meeting Wednesday evening.

"I'm ecstatic. I'm excited to tell everyone the news," she said. "This
is awesome."

She said the effort to block the county ordinance was successful
because people who were formerly hesitant to be publically active were
galvanized by supervisors' decision to outlaw cooperatives.

"There's a lot of people who were like me who were afraid to step
forward," she said.

But signing a petition isn't that tough.

"People are tired of being told what to do -- being told 'Do what I
say, not what I do,'" Epps said.


Now it is up to the Kern County Board of Supervisors, which approved
the county law unanimously Aug. 9, to decide how to proceed. It will
take up the issue Tuesday.

Supervisors can repeal their ordinance.

Or they can place the question of whether cooperatives should be
banned before county voters in a special election or during the June
2012 primary.

Supervisor Mike Maggard, board chairman, said the board could
"withdraw the ordinance and introduce an ordinance that is legally"
acceptable or send the issue to a public vote.

He wasn't sure which option he will support, but said the county must
somehow deal with the problem of cooperatives.

"What we have now is not working and we need to find something that
works," Maggard said. "What do we do to deal with these dispensaries
if they are going to continue to exist?"

If supervisors send the issue to a vote, their ordinance would remain
frozen until the election and cooperatives would remain legal in the
county's jurisdiction -- generally areas outside the city limits of
the county's municipalities.


Regulating medical marijuana facilities has troubled Kern County since
California voters exempted medical use of the drug from criminal
prosecution by passing the Compassionate Use Act in 1996.

Supervisor Ray Watson noted that Kern County voters rejected the

County supervisors first tried to limit the number of storefront
operations -- which then operated as for-profit businesses -- in the
county to six. Then, after some of the businesses were prosecuted by
federal agents and Sheriff Donny Youngblood refused to issue permits
to organizations that remained illegal under federal law, the county
removed all limits on the operations.

The storefront operations, now set up as nonprofits, flourished and
multiplied. In 2010 supervisors put a moratorium on the establishment
of new cooperatives and asked Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner to
develop a new ordinance to regulate the nonprofits after they
identified at least 22 cooperatives in the county.

In August Goldner's office brought back ordinances to limit the number
of plants that can be cultivated and banned storefront cooperatives
and the sale of marijuana edibles.


On Aug. 9,supervisors passed a 12-plant limit on the amount of medical
marijuana that can be cultivated on a parcel of land. They used an
emergency ordinance to create the law, causing it to take effect
immediately and sparking a wave of raids on marijuana grows by Kern
County sheriff's deputies.

That law has been challenged by a lawsuit. A preliminary ruling on
whether to suspend the ordinance pending the outcome of the case is
soon expected from Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe.

Also on Aug. 9, supervisors approved the ban on storefront
cooperatives and the sale of marijuana edibles. But that rule didn't
take effect until one month after the decision.

That gave ordinance opponents the chance to gather signatures for a
voter referendum. They registered 5,933 new voters and raced to
collect the 17,350 signatures.

On Sept. 8, the day before the ordinance was to take effect, Kern
Citizens for Patients' Rights submitted 26,326 signatures against the
ordinance to the county, which temporarily stopped the ordinance from
taking effect.

Elections workers then spent nearly two weeks making sure enough valid
signatures existed on petition documents to send the ordinance back to
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.