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Mission at Kern County worries about nearby marijuana dispensaries

A marijuana dispensary is seen Monday, May 9, 2016, in east Bakersfield, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

The Mission at Kern County works to help people dealing with drug addiction, and officials said the are worried about the number of medical marijuana dispensaries near their east Bakersfield campus.

Mission officials are also concerned at finding out some dispensaries collect sales tax on their products, and send that money on to the state. Mission Executive Director Carlos Baldovinos said better and more consistent regulations are needed.

His organization provides help for the homeless, and they also have drug rehabilitation programs for both men and women. Baldovinos said it's a problem to have the marijuana dispensaries in the area.

"The person that's going through addiction, they get out of it, these (marijuana dispensaries) are right there in front of them," he said. "They're right there, and it's really causing them a hard time kicking the habit."

Mission officials counted eight medical marijuana dispensaries within a few blocks of their campus. Eyewitness News took that list, and found most still open, one that was shut down, and a few additional dispensaries.

We took the Mission concerns to the operators of the dispensaries.

"We are really close to the Mission," manager Leonard Velazquez said at Central California Caregivers. "We're not trying to do any harm to them at all, we're just trying to provide medication to the proper people that do need medication." That dispensary is in the 500 block of East 18th Street.

Baldovinos is not impressed with that argument.

"That's their side of the story," he said. Baldovinos said he can sympathize with people dealing with medical conditions, but he still worries about the negative impacts of the marijuana dispensaries near the rehab facilities he runs.

Baldovinos is also concerned about how various levels of government are regulating the dispensaries. He was surprised by the Eyewitness News report that some dispensaries collect sales tax and forward that to the state.

According to the California State Board of Equalization, the state took in about $50 million in sales tax from 1,623 medical marijuana dispensaries that registered and filed taxes in 2014.

The state also reports dispensaries in Kern County collected a total of $434,450 in sales tax in 2014, and a little more than $54,000 came back to Kern County.

"That brought new light to me, I didn't know that," Baldovinos said on Monday. "I had no idea." He thinks the question of taxes needs more clarification.

Deputy Bakersfield City Attorney Richard Iger said it can be confusing. He said an operation may have a Bakersfield City business license, and a state seller's permit -- but still not be a legal business. And, they may collect sales taxes.

"They do pay sales tax," Iger said. "That does not legitimize their business. But, if they didn't pay the sales tax, it's a different crime that they would be committing."

Iger said for example, past prosecutions against Mafia operations have gone after them for failing to pay taxes, even if authorities couldn't file charges for other illegal activities.

Meanwhile, Iger stresses the marijuana dispensaries are illegal in the city.

"The city of Bakersfield has banned all medical marijuana dispensaries across the city, doesn't matter what zone," he said.

Iger said that means the dispensaries are committing a zoning violation, so the city takes them through a civil court process to get shut-down orders.

Several of the dispensaries near the Mission did not comment on the organization's concerns. Some said they only provide marijuana to people who have the required doctor's recommendation. One dispensary said other drugs are available on the street, like methamphetamine, which cause problems for people trying to deal with addiction.

Iger said the city is increasing its enforcement against the dispensaries. He has eight active lawsuits going, and is ready to file three more. Iger said he has to "triage" the effort, working first on the operations that cause the greatest nuisance, or generate the most complaints.

At the Mission, Baldovinos hopes more will happen. He thinks there should be more legislation at the state level, then reaching to local jurisdictions.

"I think the quicker we can get this done, the better for it is for our community," Baldovinos said. "We need to tackle this thing, we need to figure this out."

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