New challenge to Bakersfield's ban on marijuana dispensaries

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The new ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries in Bakersfield faces a new challenge. A group has filed a lawsuit asserting the new rule violates California environmental laws. It came the same day a different group failed to turn in petition signatures that could have forced a referendum.

Monday was the deadline for the signature effort. That's when city attorney Ginny Gennaro got notice that Concerned Citizens of Bakersfield intended to file a petition under the California Environmental Quality Act.

"The ordinance is in effect at this particular point in time," Gennaro told Eyewitness News on Tuesday. "We're in a wait-and-see mode, because there is still the chance that the city will be sued on a CEQA violation."

Attorney Jamie Hall is representing Concerned Citizens, and he told Eyewitness News by phone the suit was also filed on Monday, but Gennaro may not have been served yet.

The City Council passed and adopted the new rule on June 26. Ordinance 4731 says medical marijuana dispensaries are a "specifically prohibited" use in any zone of the city.

The new legal challenge says the city "erroneously" determined the ordinance was "exempt" under CEQA, and didn't do a study of possible impacts.

The suit argues if all the dispensaries in the city are banned, patients will turn to growing marijuana at home, and the city didn't analyze the "reasonably foreseeable consequences" of that. It lists impacts from indoor marijuana growing like increased use of electricity, and additional carbon monoxide emissions.

The group's suit also says patients will then travel farther to get medical marijuana, and that will have impacts by increasing traffic and air pollution.

"There are a variety of secondary impacts," attorney Hall said, and the city failed to study those or let the public comment on the impacts.

"We will vigorously oppose it," Gennaro said, about the legal challenge.

The city's attorney said they are convinced the ordinance does not violate the state's environmental rules. She said the ordinance based on one in Riverside, which the state Supreme Court has upheld.

Bruce Payne was coming out of a dispensary Tuesday in the central Bakersfield area and said he thinks the city's rule is wrong.

"There's a lot of people that need the product here," he said. "The medicinal marijuana."

Payne said he uses marijuana for several physical ailments.

But, local officials have worried about impacts from the dispensaries. They've heard concerns about robberies and worse crimes, and nuisances like loitering.

"I guess they have a valid complaint on some, if they have loitering and stuff," Payne said. "But that's up to the people that own the pot shops."

He noted there are signs at his dispensary that warn of no loitering, and require ID.

City officials have said enforcement of the new ban will be "complaint based." On Tuesday, Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell told Eyewitness News there are a couple places they are hearing complaints about.

Hall said the group filing the suit is made up of individual citizens, patients, and collective associations. He said it's not unusual for ad hoc groups to form with issues like this. "This is a process," he said of the legal action. "It could take nine to twelve months to conclude, it doesn't happen overnight."

In the meantime, the city's attorney says the ordinance is in effect. If opponents had gathered enough signatures for a referendum, that would have required the city to repeal the rule or put it to a vote of the citizens on a future ballot.

Gennaro says it's different if a CEQA lawsuit is filed. "We'll probably go to the City Council and see how they want to handle this situation," she said. "The ordinance is in effect, and remains in effect."