Local Politics

Friday, Jul 19 2013 09:00 PM

Advocates seek to reverse pot dispensary ban

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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

Opponents of Bakersfield's new ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits have notified the City Clerk's office they are organizing a referendum to force either its repeal or a vote of the people.

The ordinance was approved by the Bakersfield City Council June 26 and will become law Aug. 1. It is modeled after an example in Riverside, which was upheld in a decision by the California Supreme Court allowing cities to ban dispensaries.

A spokeswoman for the organizers said Friday that the Bakersfield council is "out of step with voters."

"There are still going to be patients in Bakersfield, and there are still going to be people dispensing cannabis to those patients. You would think that, by now, we would have learned that prohibition doesn't work," said Dege Coutee, who runs Patient Advocacy Network, a nonprofit medical marijuana patient advocacy group in Los Angeles.

Coutee said her political action committee, Patients for Compassionate Use Policies, is raising funds to help organizers collect the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in Bakersfield -- or 15,326 signatures.

However, Coutee declined to say how much money her PAC has raised, how many signatures have been collected or which dispensaries in Bakersfield support the effort. She characterized gatherers as being "way more than half-way to what they need."

Local medical marijuana attorney Philip Ganong, who is on the board of directors of the Golden State Cooperative, a medical marijuana dispensary, said a local patient advocate was spearheading the signature drive in Bakersfield.

That advocate declined to comment.

"There's a lot of fear in the community," Coutee said, citing this as her reason for not providing exact statistics or contacts among organizers. "Because they're talking about selective enforcement, that's got people nervous."

By law, organizers have until July 29 to collect their signatures and submit them to the City Clerk's office for verification. If at least 15,326 signatures they collect are verified, the city council will have two options: consider a vote to repeal the ordinance or call for an election to let voters decide.

"At that time, the ordinance is in abeyance" and not enforced, Gennaro said, cautioning, "We still have firepower, and the firepower rests in our (medical marijuana) resolution. The public can rest assured that we're not going to sit on our hands."

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