Pot protesters

Protesters hold signs and yell outside the Kern County Administrative Center before Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors during which a medical marijuana ballot initiative was discussed.

A new medical marijuana initiative could be placed on the March 2020 ballot thanks to action taken at the Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

At the meeting, Supervisors voted to allow the Planning and Natural Resources Department to develop an ordinance that could then be placed on the March ballot for approval by the public.

Many marijuana advocates attended the meeting, and spoke out against the action before the supervisors’ vote.

For around an hour and a half, the advocates made public comments in an attempt to convince supervisors not to place the ordinance on the March 2020 ballot.

They said the new ordinance had the potential to split the vote between itself and another community-led medical marijuana initiative that has already qualified for the March ballot.

“Splitting the vote will increase the chances of both initiatives failing,” said Cecilia Latu, who helped organize the original initiative for the ballot along with David Abbasi. "Our ballot measure will create more jobs and tax revenue than any other proposal."

She defended her initiative, which she said had been crafted to be the “perfect initiative” for Kern County.

However, county officials disagreed.

According to an analysis done by the Planning Department, Latu and Abbasi’s initiative would allow any medical marijuana dispensaries that had been open before Jan. 1, 2018 to reopen.

The Planning Department said in the analysis that as many as 60 medical marijuana dispensaries could potentially reopen as a result of the initiative passing, although Abbasi has disputed the claim.

The dispensaries would be clustered in Oildale and Rosamond, the analysis said, and would be nearly automatically approved, as long as they could prove they were open and were 1,000 feet away from a school.

Cultivation of marijuana would also be allowed.

In contrast, the Planning Department plans to craft an ordinance that only allows for medical marijuana dispensaries in areas zoned for industrial uses. This would effectively remove dispensaries from retail and residential areas.

The county also plans to require dispensaries to obtain a conditional use permit before they are allowed to open, which would include a hearing and a public comment period, unlike Abbasi and Latu’s initiative.

“The idea here is that a medicinal cannabis operation is not a walk-in opportunity,” said Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt. “A CVS pharmacy is. If I need aspirin, I find the nearest CVS. I go in, I buy aspirin. That is not how medicinal cannabis works.”

Oviatt said she hoped to return to the board sometime in September with a completed ordinance. The board could then vote to place the issue on the ballot.

“The voters need an opportunity to weigh in on this,” said Supervisor Zack Scrivner, who made the referral to the Planning Department to address Abbasi and Latu’s initiative. “The ordinance that staff has proposed here presents a framework that will give the voters who legitimately want to offer access for medical patients that have legitimate needs a choice.”

He added that he was concerned that Abbasi and Latu’s initiative would result in a cluster of dispensaries in Rosamond, a repeat of the previous system, which he said resulted in numerous complaints from residents.

The board voted 4-0 to approve the matter, with Supervisor Leticia Perez absent.

Supervisor Mick Gleason echoed Scrivner’s sentiment while playing down the potential for the county’s initiative to split the vote.

“My intent is to drive forward something that can win,” he said. “Not two things that are going to lose.”