May 172012

California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, giving “seriously ill Californians … the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes” as recommended by a physician. The practical implementation of Prop. 215 has been messy, contradictory and confusing, and it conflicts with federal law. Subsequent state regulations on the issue have tempered one problem while creating others. And local governments have passed a patchwork of regulations — and faced ensuing court battles over their legality.

Measure G is Kern County’s latest attempt to regulate medicinal marijuana in unincorporated areas. It would limit storefront dispensaries to areas that have been zoned for industrial uses and are at least one mile from churches, schools, parks, day care centers and other “sensitive” uses — including other storefront collectives or cooperatives. In reality, the measure creates a scant few locations in the entire unincorporated county where a dispensary could feasibly exist. County officials contend there is plenty of space available — but in some cases nonprofit dispensaries would have to take extraordinary steps such as developing vacant land in outlying areas or even building the access to that land.

The Bakersfield Californian opposes Measure G because it so severely limits access to marijuana for suffering patients that it violates the original intent of voters who passed Prop. 215.

County supervisors say Measure G is needed because dispensaries invite crime and create nuisances in the neighborhoods where they operate. Fifth District Supervisor Karen Goh told KGET-TV that the ordinance ensures “our children are protected and businesses are protected.” But where is the evidence that dispensaries have put communities in danger? There may be occasional break-ins or robberies, but every storefront operation is subject to such crime. Some dispensaries have been used as cover for illegal drug sales, but that’s not reason to punish all dispensaries.

Measure G is more the result of a select few county officials being ideologically opposed to medicinal marijuana. The county had a workable system for regulating dispensaries in place until Donny Youngblood became sheriff and refused to carry it out. Like-minded supervisors used Youngblood’s rigid position as an opportunity to get rid of unsightly dispensaries in their districts. That’s why they passed an ordinance banning dispensaries last year. Measure G is only on the ballot because medicinal marijuana advocates secured the tens of thousands of votes to overturn that ban, forcing the county to go to voters with a referendum. Why didn’t they just write Measure G as an outright ban? Because in the meantime the complete prohibition of dispensaries became legally questionable so the county had to get creative.

So much is in flux at the federal, state and local levels that California might not be able to fulfill the original intent of the Compassionate Use Act for years, if ever. The current system of collectives and storefront dispensaries is rife with problems, but at least it honors the law’s intent — helping cancer patients and others who live with chronic pain. By contrast, Measure G would implement an effective ban. The county has not made clear what pressing need is addressed by Measure G that justifies making it harder for patients to alleviate their pain, other than satisfying the ideological leanings of a select few county officials.

Vote no on Measure G.

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