Feb 262012
 

The medical marijuana ordinance that Kern County supervisors decided this week to send to voters in June would, if passed, outlaw nearly every established collective or cooperative “shop” in unincorporated Kern County and make it very difficult for them to reopen in a new location.

To stay in business, the collectives would have to find a new home on industrial-zoned land that is at least a mile away from schools, public parks and churches, James Burger reports in the Bakersfield Californian.

County zoning maps released this week show much of the land technically “open” for medical marijuana collectives presents real challenges to development.

The maps show more than 50 separate areas in Kern County where a medical marijuana storefront technically could locate. But the vast majority of the sites are relatively small parcels that are either bare ground, agricultural fields or have already been developed with a specific business.

County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said collectives and cooperatives have a path they could follow to obtain county approval for a new location under the proposed ordinance.

“If they don’t comply, they would have to close their operation temporarily and find a place,” she said. “If they’re concerned about this, they need to get a real estate broker and start looking” for appropriately zoned land.

Oviatt argues there is plenty of opportunity in the map for collectives that are willing to locate in empty buildings or develop open land into a storefront operation.

But collective operators say the proposed ordinance is designed to slash the number of collectives and cooperatives and — they believe — all but ban medical marijuana shops in unincorporated Kern County.

SHRINKING SPACE

While the planning map shows there are 9,205 acres of land in the county’s jurisdiction that have the technical characteristics that would allow a medical marijuana collective, the majority of the areas are far from urban areas, developed with something other than retail-style buildings or are simply undeveloped.

Examples of the kinds of land “available” to a medical marijuana operations include property already home to the Frito-Lay snack company plant on Highway 58 near Interstate 5, the Desert Block concrete block plant on Highway 99 south of Bakersfield and the troubled Hondo Chemical business on Stockdale Highway west of urban Bakersfield.

There are a number of fairly large pieces of property where a collective could relocate if voters support the supervisor-proposed ordinance. But in reality, those zones of opportunity are unlikely to accommodate storefront medical marijuana operations.

The largest area is to the east of the Mojave Air & Space Port. But the industrial land is largely open and undeveloped, which would require collectives to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars — if not millions — to develop the land.

Tejon Ranch’s large commercial center on I-5 at the bottom of the Grapevine is — technically — another spot where cooperatives could lease a home.

But Tejon Ranch isn’t likely to welcome a medical marijuana shop next to Starbucks, Chipotle or its gas station tenants.

“At first blush it certainly doesn’t fit” into Tejon’s business model, said company spokesman Barry Zoeller.

A lease would be “highly unlikely,” he said.

And while the county map shows several large chunks of appropriate land near Meadows Field Airport in Oildale, almost all that land is already off-limits to every medical marijuana collective — except one.

Kern County Medicinal Collective is already located in an industrial strip mall just off Pegasus Drive.

The proposed ordinance would prevent collectives from locating within one mile of each other, which means KCMC would cast a two-mile wide shadow around it that would eliminate nearly all of the available property near Meadows Field.

All that would remain available is airport property owned by the county — an unlikely landlord. Other land in the area houses oil firm Halliburton and an orchard along Highway 65, which would also present complications for developers.

ALREADY HOME

Jeff Jarvis of Kern County Medicinal said his nonprofit membership group has no interest in becoming the one and only medical marijuana storefront in the county areas of Bakersfield.

While there are collectives in the city of Bakersfield, they are technically operating illegally because city zoning prohibits the operation of collectives and cooperatives.

“It seems to our group that, if this goes into effect, that there are only one or two places in (unincorporated) Bakersfield proper where these things can go,” he said.

His operation would be one of them, he said, but he doesn’t see that as a good thing.

Jarvis predicts that his business and any others left will become larger and have larger amounts of product and cash on hand.

He said that will make his operation a bigger target for both criminals and the federal government, which has already begun targetting operations within Bakersfield.

Heather Epps, president of the Kern Citizens for Patient Rights, said she believes supervisors prepared the ordinance to make it nearly impossible to operate a medical marijuana collective in Kern County.

“If they really had the idea in their mind that they wanted to make a safe place, they would have opened (development of the ordinance) to the public,” she said.

Jarvis’ wife, Linda Jarvis, said she believes supervisors knew they were sending a de facto ban to the voters, hoping those voters would support the law without realizing what they were truly doing.

BUFFER OR BAN?

Supervisor Zack Scrivner denied that he was motivated by anything other than a desire to keep medical marijuana shops away from children, churches, day cares and parks.

He acknowledged that finding a new home will be tough for collectives and cooperatives.

But Planning Director Oviatt argues the proposed rule would not ban operations that were willing to go through a simple ministerial process through her department, which would approve a precise development district and site plan required to open in an existing building or build a new home for themselves on open property.

It is, she argues, what any other business would be required to go through on land that is appropriately zoned for the use they want to establish.

Linda Jarvis said that, practically, federal pressure on landlords would keep most from renting to a medical marijuana cooperative. The person who leases Kern Medicinal’s space to it has received a warning letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which recently stepped up enforcement of federal marijuana laws and began targeting property owners who leased space to medical marijuana collectives.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

“Nobody wants to rent to anyone. I don’t blame them,” she said.

And collectives and cooperatives that are trying to abide by state law and operate ethically don’t generally have the money to buy and develop their own land far away from the urban center.

“Our collective would never have the money to be able to do it,” Jarvis said. And since the federal government would probably seek to take that land, too, “I don’t see anyone putting themselves out there like that.”

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