Local News

Tuesday, Aug 09 2011 07:54 PM

Ban on pot collectives could trigger legal battle

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Joe Elasco listens in at the start of the Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday afternoon. Elasco and many others were in attendance as the supervisors were expected to take a second vote on a possible medical marijuana dispensary ban.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Jeff Clark yells "it's against the law" as he storms out of the Board of Supervisors meeting before the vote on the medical marijuana dispensary issue. He would later say outside the chambers that "he can't tolerate this kangaroo court."

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Kern County supervisors unanimously voted to ban storefront medical marijuana cooperatives.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Kern County Sheriff deputies line the lobby outside the Board of Supervisors chambers as the overflow crowd filed out after the vote on medical marijuana dispensaries.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Frederick Richman (green hat) and other pro-medical marijuana supporters listen as the Board of Supervisors prepares to vote on the medical marijuana issue.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Once again it was an overflow crowd at the Board of Supervisors meeting for the medical marijuana vote.

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BY JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

The crowd in the Kern County Board of Supervisors chambers erupted with shouts of rage laced with profanity Tuesday after supervisors unanimously passed a ban on store-front medical marijuana collectives in unincorporated Kern County.

Pot workers, patients, caregivers and their attorneys vowed to immediately launch a referendum to reverse the decision and sue the county to block the ban from taking effect in 30 days.

But the biggest immediate impact of the supervisors' actions could be to the large number of marijuana grows that instantly became illegal Tuesday when supervisors passed an emergency ordinance that limited the number of plants that could be grown on any parcel of property to 12 or less.

Asked how many teams of deputies he had ready to execute raids on marijuana grows, Sheriff Donny Youngblood smiled.

"If I had a marijuana grow right now, I'd be cutting back to 12 plants," Youngblood said. "And I mean tonight."

Supervisors took Youngblood seriously when he told them about a marijuana grow that had been raided just that morning where 17 out-of-county medical marijuana cards were used to power a grow with more than 1,000 plants.

Around the grow, at Fairfax and Panama, were 17 booby traps -- shotgun shells rigged to fire at head or waist level.

"This was a catastrophe waiting to happen," Youngblood said.

The vote to create the emergency ordinance was unanimous.

But, for the people in the supervisors' chambers, the decision that angered them most was the ban on store-front collectives or cooperatives and the sale of edible marijuana products.

They had been rallying against the proposed ban in front of Kern County Superior Court since early Tuesday morning and they were fired up when the vote took place at about 6:30 p.m.

The only option the ordinance leaves patients who rely on marijuana to battle AIDS, cancer and a host of other illnesses is to go to a drug dealer, said attorney Phil Ganong.

"They want us to go to the back alleys so the sheriff can arrest us," he said.

Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner said that, in her reading of the law, the county is not prohibited from adopting tougher restrictions on medical marijuana than state law up to and including a ban on storefront operations.

But she admitted other attorneys disagree with her.

"There is a difference of opinion on that. Two other attorneys have different opinions than I do on that. I disagree with them," she said.

Ganong said the county would be sued immediately.

But it was when Goldner suggested that medical marijuana patients can find a caregiver to supply their drug for them with just "a few computer key strokes," that Ganong lost his cool, standing up in the middle of the meeting to challenge her statement.

The room erupted into shouting and the small army of Kern County Sheriff's deputies stationed in the chambers cleared the room while Supervisor Mike Maggard called a five-minute recess to restore calm.

Supervisors showed sympathy for a host of patients who shared what the drug does for them.

Ana Ortiz said she was sidelined by the legal drugs she was prescribed for her illness. Medical marijuana changed that.

"They had me on so many medications I wasn't allowed to take care of my grandchildren," she said. "I can now take care of my five grandchildren. I can now take part in my community. I can now take part in my church."

Pony R. Horton of Tehachapi, a long-term AIDS patient, said medical marijuana is keeping him alive by helping him eat.

But he said getting his medicine would be hard if the ban on collectives passed because he won't be able to grow it.

"I grow pot as well as I sing and I sing well enough to turn this microphone into a typewriter," he quipped.

Supervisor Karen Goh said Goldner convinced her that patients would have the opportunity to find their medicine if the ban was passed.

"My intention is not to dispute any of the heartfelt testimony you shared with us," said Supervisor Zack Scrivner, adding that he's sure patients are experiencing relief from their medical conditions. "I'm just trying to address some adverse impacts to businesses in my district."

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