Local Politics

Tuesday, Jun 05 2012 11:06 PM

Kern voters to pot shops: go away and hide

BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writers jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a measure to sharply limit where storefront medical marijuana dispensaries can be located in unincorporated county areas.

With all precincts reporting, Measure G passed with 68.98 percent voting yes and 31.02 percent no.

The initiative will practically eliminate nearly every existing shop that distributes cannabis under California laws that permit the cultivation and possession of the plant for medical purposes.

Kern County supervisors placed the measure on the ballot after they tried, unsuccessfully, to approve a complete ban on storefront operations.

Supporters of the collectives and cooperatives blocked implementation of the ban through a referendum drive. But supervisors were able to draft the new ordinance and forward it as Measure G to voters for a decision.

Opponents of the measure launched a series of video ads criticizing it and the supervisors, spending about $20,000 raised largely from the collectives and cooperatives.

On Tuesday night, measure opponents said they were hanging tight until full results came in. Group leaders have argued that Measure G is a scam and an attempt to seize private property.

No group supporting Measure G developed. But that didn't seem to make a difference. Roughly 55,400 voters cast yes on the measure.

Under Measure G, cooperatives and collectives will be required to locate only on industrial land at least one mile away from schools, day care centers, churches, public parks or any other collective or cooperative.

That buffer zone leaves only a handful of spots of any size open in Kern County, and finding a new location to operate from in the county would be both expensive and difficult for collectives and cooperatives.

Measure G also leaves whatever is left as easy targets for a re-energized enforcement effort by federal attorneys.

The Kern Board of Supervisors has struggled with how to handle medical marijuana shops ever since the first one opened in Kern County about nine years ago.

The measure essentially is a reaction to the explosion of medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives that hit Kern County between March 2009 and August 2010.

Supervisors have walked a thin line in regulating shops, which can be legal under state law but are illegal under federal law. They have said the plan strikes a balance between state and federal laws and offers medical marijuana operations a place to put down roots.

-- Staff writer Jorge Barrientos contributed to this report.

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