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Oleander neighbors band together to fight medical marijuana dispensaries

A medical marijuana dispensary is seen Friday, March 11, 2016, in Bakersfield, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Some Oleander neighbors say there are too many medical marijuana dispensaries too close to their homes, and they want tougher action by Bakersfield officials. The residents fired up a website on Friday afternoon, and hope other neighbors will join their battle.

Members are calling the new group Bakersfield Residents Against Pot Shops, or B-RAPS. The new website has places to sign their petition and report dispensaries.

Neighbor David Brust says he knows of at least 10 dispensaries near their area, and calls the corner of Brundage Lane and H Street a prime example. That's where there are five dispensaries within a block or so.

"The major concern that we have is additional crime and traffic, which a lot of our neighbors have noticed," Brust told Eyewitness News on Friday. He's upset about the cluster of dispensaries, especially since they're not allowed in the first place.

"The fact is, they're illegal because they're not zoned," neighbor Gayle Welch echoes.

An ordinance passed by the Bakersfield City Council in Aug. 2013 bans medical marijuana dispensaries in all areas of town. It says the facilities are not an allowed use in any zone in the city.

The group says their issue is not with the use of medical marijuana, it's the dispensaries, and how many there are.

"I know people that have (medical) marijuana cards," Brust says. "And they agree that these businesses, in this proximity, for this many of them, are not suitable for the area that we live in."

But, he also worries about what the dispensaries do, and don't do.

"They don't do any of the things that we'd expect a legitimate business to do," Brust complains. "It's a cash business, they don't even deposit any money into accounts. They're paying no tax, that I know of. They don't pay any local taxes."

Brust also thinks officials in Los Angeles have shut down hundreds of dispensaries, and wonders why Bakersfield hasn't done that.

And one more complaint. Brust says he doesn't see dispensaries in areas like southwest Bakersfield or Rosedale. At any rate, he and the group want them gone from Oleander.

Welch says she's also checked with legitimate businesses around the dispensaries near Brundage and H, and some say they are negatively affected by the dispensaries. One business owner worries she'll lose customers.

"She said, 'We have clients come to our door and smell the marijuana and they don't want to stay,'" Welch says one reported.

Another business in the same area also says they smell marijuana often. "It's a little overwhelming when we do have children and stuff," Jean Phillips says.

Her boss didn't want the business identified. They have a dispensary behind them, and another right across the street.

Phillips says the dispensary that adjoins them is "respectful," but she also thinks the area is over-saturated with dispensaries.

Welch says she met with Associate Bakersfield Attorney Richard Iger this week, asking about city action.

"Of course, he's telling me he's working on these things," Welch says.

Iger has told Eyewitness News in the past that it takes time to take the facilities to court, seeking orders to close them down. He says they take action based on complaints, and anyone with concerns about dispensaries should call his office at 326-3721.

But, the new resident group says they want more action and faster results.

Welch would like to see more proactive efforts by Bakersfield Police, and she wants the facilities shut down.

Brust questions whether fire officials have checked the facilities, and if they meet occupancy requirements.

The group wants the medical marijuana dispensaries gone from their area.

"If it was 12 bars that all of a sudden popped up in my neighborhood, I'd feel the same way. It's not right," Brust says. He thinks the city attorney's office should find some method to shut down the dispensaries.

They'll be taking their petition to the city attorney and city council with one message, Brust says. "To do their jobs, and remove these pot shops from our area."

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