What's next for Kern County's marijuana dispensaries?

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Medical marijuana users in Kern County are asking what's ahead, now that a judge threw out Measure G.

County lawyers say dispensaries are now not allowed anywhere in the county, because that was the rule before voters passed Measure G. Dispensary attorneys disagree.

And it all leaves medical marijuana users confused.

"The county basically lost, because they failed to do an environmental report," Armando Espinoza said Monday. He'd heard about Friday's ruling and the county attorney response. "But, they still came out saying that somehow they won, which doesn't make sense to me."

On Monday, Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner insisted to Eyewitness News the dispensaries are not allowed as a result of the ruling.

"Without Measure G, the county can enforce zoning ordinances, which don't allow dispensaries," she said.

It goes back to Kern County zoning rules, what was on the books, and when.

Goldner said Kern County has "permissive use" zoning ordinances. Only the uses that are listed are allowed.

"Without Measure G, dispensaries are no longer listed as permitted, or allowed," she said.

Kern County leaders had taken several different approaches to "pot shops" in the last few years.

In August 2011, Kern County Supervisors enacted an emergency ordinance on how much marijuana could be grown for medical use. That limit was 12 plants per parcel. At that time, the board also enacted an ordinance that banned store-front medical marijuana dispensaries. That was set to take effect on Sept. 9, 2011.

But, the ordinance for the dispensary ban was suspended when supporters got enough signatures challenging it.

In February 2012, county supervisors then repealed the ordinance banning the dispensaries, and put Measure G on the ballot, according to the county counsel's office.

Measure G permitted dispensaries only in areas zoned medium or heavy industrial, with some additional restrictions. Measure G passed by voters, and later the legal challenge was filed against it.

"Although Measure G is invalidated by the court, what it does to dispensaries, is now they're not allowed in any zone district in the county," Deputy County Counsel Charles Collins said after the Friday hearing before Judge Kenneth Twisselman.

But, the attorneys who represented the dispensaries disputed that.

"He's a lawyer, he has a legal opinion," attorney and medical marijuana advocate Phil Ganong told Eyewitness News on Friday. "We have legal opinions of our own."

But, officials with the county counsel's office said their position goes back to what was on the books before Measure G. They said the ordinances that permitted dispensaries and the zoning chapters permitting them had been repealed.

"Right before Measure G, nothing was in the zoning ordinance that permitted medical marijuana dispensaries," Goldner said.

"We don't agree," Ganong countered. "We can have another legal battle."

Attorneys for the pot shops also argue most of the dispensaries had been operating legally before Measure G.

Deputy County Counsel Devin Brown told Eyewitness News that it's their position the board's action to repeal the previous dispensary ordinances was "separate and independent" from its decision to put Measure G on the ballot. So, the ruling on Friday has no bearing on the previous repeal of the prior ordinance.

County officials said they know of five dispensaries now operating in the county.

The ruling becomes effective when the judge signs it, and it's not clear when that will happen.

When it does, Goldner said the county has several options. They can decide to "abate" the still-open dispensaries, starting with a hearing before the board of supervisors. The county could file lawsuits against the operations or start criminal proceedings.

"On Friday, the court invalidated Measure G, which is the only county ordinance that permits medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the county," Goldner said Monday. "The county will evaluate its options after this ruling and will continue to enforce zoning ordinances to stop any use that is not permitted under the zoning ordinances, including medical marijuana dispensaries."

Meanwhile, Armando Espinoza said he worries what he'll do to get his medical marijuana if dispensaries are all shut down in the county.

"I want to make sure that I have my safe access to it," Espinoza said. "I don't want to get it from some back channels or some gang bangers."

On Friday, the county's Collins said there is no victory from the judge's ruling kicking out Measure G. Goldner echoed that.

"The court ruling presents a situation where there are no winners," she said. "A popular ballot measure was struck down, at the same time medical marijuana dispensaries are no longer a legally zoned use."