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Voters may get the final say in the medical marijuana debate

Photo: Max Pixel, MGN, file

Medical marijuana businesses are banned in Kern County, but you may get to vote them back in.

"We believe that the county made an error in their approach to cannabis," medical marijuana advocate Jeff Jarvis said.

A medical marijuana advocacy group, Kern Citizens for Patient Rights, is working to get an initiative on the November ballot to overturn the ban.

Local attorney Phil Ganong wrote the initiative.

The group already has a similar initiative on the November ballot to possibly overturn the city of Bakersfield's ban.

Now they need about 13,200 valid signatures from Kern County residents in order for the county initiative to get on the ballot.

Heather Epps, medical marijuana advocate, said the group hopes to get 16,500 signatures by early June.

"I feel it should be up to the community. The voters should make that decision," Epps said.

This measure would not impact the ban on recreational marijuana businesses.

"Our county isn't ready for something like that," Jarvis said. "We are a conservative county, we understand that, but we are also an agricultural county."

Jarvis said their goal is to create "controlled and regulated access" to medical marijuana.

"We're pushing this forward really thinking in terms of safe access for patients that require it," he said. "To have a ban in Kern County forces these individuals to have to travel 50, 60, 75 miles to receive medicine or be able to purchase medicine."

Kern County Counsel, Mark Nations, prepared the title and summary of the proposed measure.

It reads, "Commercial medicinal cannabis activities would be allowed in agricultural, commercial, and industrial zoning districts. The types of activities allowed, including cultivation, manufacturing, testing laboratories, retailing, distribution and microbusiness, would vary somewhat by district. If a business seeking a cultivation permit were located within one mile of an established commercial farming operation, the County could require a conditional use permit and would have to find that the herbicide or pesticide drift potential to the medicinal cannabis activity could be reasonably mitigated."

The ordinance does not limit the number of permits that may be issued for any of those cannabis activities.

If passed, the measure would also allow for cultivation of personal medical marijuana in accordance with state laws.

The proposed measure reads, "In agricultural districts, personal outdoor cultivation could not be visible from the public property by normal, unaided vision. In all other districts, including residential districts, outdoor person cultivation would be allowed if contained within a fenced and locked area."

County Counsel Mark Nations said the fence would have to be at least six feet tall and have barbed wire at the top.

If the measure passed, "a land use permit would be required to engage in commercial medicinal cannabis activity. The County would be required to issue a land use permit authorizing the specific use applied for as long as the applicant met the County ordinance requirements and the criteria to receive a state license."

It states, "The County would consider the applicant's activities and could impose some limitations on the concentration of activities to prevent density impacts in any district. Distance limitations could not exceed 1,000 feet between activities. Thus, in any given zone district, there could be a medicinal cannabis business of one type or another located every thousand feet."

"We want to make sure the shops are not in neighborhoods, that if they are growing they are in the right zone district for it," Epps said.

Medical marijuana dispensaries that were open by May 10, 2016, and met certain "zoning, setback, and building code requirements" could continue to operate if the measure passed.

The county would also be able to impose a business tax of 7.5 percent on the "adjusted gross income of any commercial cannabis activity and use the proceeds at its discretion for law enforcement to enforce the ordinance."

Epps said the group hopes to start collecting signatures within the week.

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