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Friday, Aug 09 2013 10:00 PM

Judge: Pot dispensary restrictions violate environmental law

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

County lawyers took a hit in Kern County Superior Court Friday when a judge let Measure G, the county's ordinance restricting medical marijuana dispensaries, stand -- but ruled an environmental review eventually must be done.

In a ruling being eyed closely by Bakersfield city officials -- who face a similar lawsuit over the city's ordinance banning dispensaries within its borders -- Judge Kenneth C. Twisselman II ruled in favor of Channel Law Group of Long Beach, which sued the county on behalf of T.C.E.F. Inc., et al, a group of county medical marijuana patients and patient collectives and cooperatives.

Twisselman found that the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not conducting an environmental review before sending Measure G to voters June 5, 2012.

"I don't find substantive evidence ... that the county has met its burden, to show that it did an environmental review ... ," Twisselman said in a discussion with Michael Hogan, one of three attorneys who represented the county.

County attorneys declined to comment on the proceedings outside court.

The plaintiffs' attorney Jamie Hall -- who also represents Concerned Citizens of Bakersfield in its CEQA lawsuit against the city -- said his clients' legal battle is far from over.

"Now we have to figure out what our relief is," Hall said after the hearing concluded. "At a minimum, they're going to have to do an environmental review. Now, the question about whether or not they're going to have to go through the ordinance adoption process again is an open issue."

Hogan argued in court that the Kern County Board of Supervisors' discussion of Measure G -- which places conditions on dispensaries and severely restricts where they may locate -- constituted an environmental review.

Hogan said that by regulating how and where county dispensaries operate, Measure G offered a degree of environmental compliance. He also pointed out that no one ever raised any issues addressed in the lawsuit -- that Measure G adversely affects air and water quality by reducing patients' access to medical marijuana -- when the ordinance was being crafted.

Hall argued that by regulating county dispensaries, Measure G ensures dispensaries don't "constitute a legal nuisance," that it doesn't touch environmental issues, and that no environmental review was done.

Both sides next appear in court Sept. 20, where they may discuss what sort of environmental review the county should do.

During the closed session of Wednesday's Bakersfield City Council meeting, the council will discuss the lawsuit against it, which alleges the city violated CEQA by not conducting an environmental review before passing its dispensary ban June 26.

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