By Ric Llewellyn
Over the past few weeks there has been quite a lot of news on the status of so-called medical marijuana in Kern County.
The Board of Supervisors took action on behalf of the people to protect our communities from exposure to businesses dispensing pot products and to prohibit large-scale cultivation of marijuana.
Then a medical marijuana advocacy group, Kern Citizens for Patient Rights, sued to overturn the plant limit ordinance and hit the streets of Kern County collecting signatures in a bid to stop the implementation of the dispensary ordinance.
The Board of Supervisors addressed the issue of storefront dispensaries and marijuana cultivation as a matter affecting the health, safety and general welfare of the people of the county.
Kern Citizens has focused on the issue as a matter of patients' rights.
The courts will decide the pot plant limit question. But if the supervisors hold an election on the referendum (they could decide to repeal the ordinance), the voters of Kern County will decide whether to uphold the ban on dispensaries. We would decide how to balance the public welfare with medical marijuana users' rights.
Comments posted to The Californian online reports are overwhelmingly supportive of the petition drive to overturn the county ban on dispensaries.
The referendum is being characterized as the voice of the people crying out against a "corporatized, despotic" county government. The supervisors and sheriff are portrayed as being paranoid and misinformed about the medicinal use of marijuana.
Ordinance opponents aren't just "ordinary, hardworking citizens of this county" speaking out against a cold and cruel attack on sick people's rights.
They seem to be a small irascible group of advocates cajoling the truly industrious, workaday people of Kern County into slowly but surely legalizing pot.
Kern Citizens for Patient Rights gathered more than 26,000 signatures seeking a referendum on the dispensary ordinance. More than 5,900 of those were newly registered at the time they signed the petition.
There are nearly 840,000 people living in Kern County. More than 312,000 are registered to vote. All the signatures of the petition drive only represent about 8 percent of the voters in Kern County and only 3 percent of the county's total population.
This is hardly the voice of "the people." And definitely not the voice of ordinary people.
Comments posted to the articles covering the referendum petition drive were incendiary and divisive. One poster exulted that "we're just getting started!"
Much more than serving the legitimate medical needs of seriously ill Californians, the goal is to drive a historical social change.
Kern Citizens, Bakersfield NORML and other political action groups won't be satisfied with dispensaries and no limit on cultivation of medical marijuana. That is just the start. The endgame is "to establish the right of adults to use cannabis legally."
Forget the safety, health and general welfare of the other 816,000 residents of the county. It's all about pot activism.
So what is the real situation with medical marijuana in Kern County? First, there is no legal mandate for dispensaries. Legislation has aimed to encourage production collectives simply to facilitate access. But there is no legislative requirement for local governments to allow retail outlets for marijuana.
On the other hand, anyone with a medical marijuana ID card can grow, possess, transport and use medical marijuana with no legal sanction under state law. The Board of Supervisors has simply established that no more than 12 plants can be legally cultivated on a given legal parcel in the unincorporated areas of Kern County.
Opponents of the new county ordinances claim that sick people will be forced to buy pot from drug dealers on the streets. Yet medical marijuana users remain legally empowered to grow marijuana for their own medicinal needs.
Authorized medical marijuana users have total control over the supply chain. Choose the strain, control the cultivation, optimize harvesting and ensure product purity, efficacy and safety.
What's wrong with that?
As an ordinary, hardworking citizen who actually voted in the last election, I have some input for the Board of Supervisors.
First, stick with the current ordinance. It keeps medical marijuana in a medical context and out of neighborhood storefronts. It supports the legitimacy of medicinally appropriate use of marijuana and avoids establishing the appearance of headshops, which dispensaries easily imply.
Next, don't call a special election. Kern Citizens would like to punish the Board of Supervisors and the ordinary, hardworking citizens of Kern County by forcing a costly special election. At least that's what their website says. I can wait to resolve the issue and it's always good to thwart meanness.
Last, put the referendum on the June primary ballot. It makes financial sense to include it on a scheduled ballot. And if Kern Citizens really wants to hear the voice of the people the primary election will draw a broader and more representative cross-section of the population to the polls.
Marijuana advocates are always pushing for more. It's time for the ordinary, hardworking people of Kern County to push back.
Ric Llewellyn is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Llewellyn, not necessarily The Californian. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week: Heather Ijames.