Kern County, which stretches from the California Coast Ranges, east over the Sierra Nevada mountain range and into the Mojave Desert, has been a key battleground in the war on medical marijuana over the past two years in Southern California.
In June of 2012, a 69% majority of voters approved Measure G, which enacted a de facto ban on all storefront dispensaries in the county, as a reaction to a rapid addition of pot shops in the relatively small high desert towns. Bakersfield, the county seat, was exempt as it had its own regulations in place, but the rest of the county saw restrictions so tight, that all existing weed shops found themselves out of compliance almost overnight.
Local cannabis advocates have spent the past year and a half arguing against Measure G, calling it a farce and political stunt, to no avail. Their latest attempt, however, used an idea you almost have to be baked to come up with – and it worked.
On Valentine’s Day last week, Kern County Judge Kenneth Twissleman shot down Measure G, thereby wiping the slate clean of the horrible ordinance that had been in place since the summer of 2012.
Measure G had required all dispensaries to be at least one full mile from each other, schools, day care centers, churches, and public parks – rendering all willing landlords and spaces ineligible immediately.
Originally, county officials tried to place their own outright ban on all weed shops. The voters rose up and petitioned that notion to death. Measure G was the county’s “compromise”, and compared to a ban, it smelled just un-shitty enough to trick 69% of voters in 2012 – hence the outcry of activists who call Measure G a scam.
So how did they finally convince Judge Twissleman to roll it back? Their argument is equal parts simple and genius. Their challenge was that the county was violating the California Environmental Quality Act by, get this, forcing people to drive further for their medical marijuana, thus creating more pollution.
This case actually began last fall, when Judge Twissleman first heard the environmental concerns argument. At that time he ordered the county to do an environmental review of the impact of Measure G, and scorned officials for not having considered it prior to putting the Measure on the ballot for voters.
Last Friday, he determined that Kern County officials were either unwilling or unable to provide the environmental report as ordered, and Measure G went up in smoke.
It is still unclear what sort of precedent such a unique argument may provide for other embattled medical marijuana counties and cities struggling under California’s aged cannabis laws, such as further south in San Diego where they face eerily similar circumstances.
Even in Kern County, officials brushed off their defeat in court last week, saying that a complete lack of an ordinance is truly a de facto ban, and until resolved, shops will still not be allowed to open. Optimistic pro-pot activists still consider a clean slate a level playing field, and plan to fight on.
With state-level power players conceding recently that major cannabis law reform in California will have to wait until 2016, it appears that the senseless war on weed will continue to be waged in Kern County.