A judge invalidated Kern County’s marijuana ordinance Feb. 14, effectively opening the door to an all-out ban on medical weed dispensaries in unincorporated parts of the county.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth Twisselman struck down Measure G, a referendum passed by voters in 2012 that limited where dispensaries could locate. Twisselman said the county had failed to conduct proper environmental studies before sending the ordinance to voters.
Measure G said MMJ dispensaries could only locate on industrial sites at least a mile from schools, churches, daycare centers, public parks and other dispensaries. A pot shop sued the county after it took effect.
Twisselman said the county failed to consider whether the ordinance would increase pollution by forcing patients to drive farther to get their medicine and by relocating nuisances such as loitering from one place to another.
The judge rejected the county’s argument that opponents of Measure G failed to raise that issue in 2012. Officials had a duty to research environmental impacts regardless of whether opponents raised them, Twisselman said.
The decision, though something of a loss for the county, is likely not much of a victory for the medical marijuana community.
“There’s no winner in this action,” said Deputy Kern County Counsel Charles Collins.
That’s because the county’s default position is a ban on all storefront collectives – the very thing Measure G was designed to avoid. When county supervisors sent Measure G to voters in November 2012, they voted to scrap every preceding dispensary ordinance.
That means that as soon as the judge’s order takes effect, every pot shop in unincorporated Kern County will become illegal.
Collins said the county isn’t using the word “ban” because no active steps are being taken to outlaw medical weed shops. But “the county intends to enforce its zoning ordinance,” he said.
Jamie Hall, a Long Beach lawyer who represented T.C.E.F. dispensary in the lawsuit that invalidated Measure G, said the decision reopens every enforcement action under Measure G. If the ordinance is invalid, so are the penalties against shops that violated it.
“We’re looking at it,” Collins said of the issue.
It’s not clear what the county will do next. Supervisors could address the environmental questions and resubmit Measure G to voters. They could appeal the case to a higher court. Or they could do nothing.
That may be their preferred direction. A number of communities in California have taken advantage of similar suits by aggressive collectives or MMJ advocates and used them as an excuse to enact outright bans on all dispensaries.
In Kern County, supervisors pushed through Measure G only after a petition drive stopped their attempt to ban all dispensaries. City lawyers fought hard to defend the ordinance, but supervisors may have gotten what they wanted all along.