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Tuesday, Apr 08 2014 04:45 PM

County moves to shut down pot dispensaries

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    A pair of buds on a Wild Thailand marijuana plant are shown in this file photo.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The Kern County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to begin civil lawsuits seeking the closure of 10 medical marijuana dispensaries, including five in unincorporated Bakersfield.

Its unanimous vote comes less than two months after a Kern County Superior Court judge invalidated Measure G, the county's 2012 voter-approved ordinance limiting where storefront marijuana operations may locate on unincorporated land.

Deputy County Counsel Devin Brown, an author of Measure G, said its Feb. 14 invalidation by Judge Kenneth Twisselman leaves no legal way for medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in unincorporated Kern County.

Brown said that's because when supervisors sent Measure G to voters two years ago, they also voted to eliminate all past ordinances allowing collectives.

This even includes Highway 99 Collective in metro Bakersfield, the only dispensary believed to be complying with Measure G.

An employee at Highway 99 Collective declined to comment on the board's vote, as did employees at several other collectives.

T. Jones, the owner of Desert Collective Co-Op in Rosamond, said his operation opened about three weeks ago and he believed it was in compliance with the law.

"I'd have to see the paperwork on it," Jones said of the supervisors' vote to target his and nine other dispensaries. "Yeah, I'm going to try to just wait it out and see what happens."

County officials will begin, Brown said, by sending cease-and-desist letters to the owners of the 10 dispensaries -- also including one in Mojave and four in Rosamond -- and their landlords.

"They're going to be notified immediately of their violation and be ordered to cease operation," said Brown, adding if dispensaries voluntarily close, the county will not have to initiate litigation.

He wouldn't go so far as to say dispensary owners won't face litigation if they close after receiving a cease-and-desist letter.

Operating a medical marijuana dispensary is a misdemeanor, Brown said, because it is not permitted in any county zone -- and dispensary owners could still face misdemeanor criminal prosecution.

Similar events are unfolding at the city of Bakersfield -- which, like Kern County, faced a legal challenge to its medical marijuana ordinance banning dispensaries, but prevailed Friday in Superior Court.

City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said she will discuss possible next steps for dealing with dispensaries within city limits during the closed session portion of the Bakersfield City Council's April 16 meeting, and again at its May 7 meeting.

"I think it is legitimate to say to you that the next step is 'What's the next step?' And the next step is definitely some type of litigation," Gennaro said, pointing out the plaintiffs could still appeal Friday's ruling.

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