Courtesy James Burger, The Bakersfield Californian, “County of Kern Launches Marijuana Planning Process,” Nov. 15, 2016. http://www.bakersfield.com/news/county-of-kern-launches-medical-marijuana-planning-process/article_202ad8b-11e6-9f3f-ebf2874eb473.html

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The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to launch an environmental investigation into the impact of medical and recreational marijuana on unincorporated Kern County.

The effort will likely become a venue for the county to discuss how to deal with the impact of Proposition 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana when voters passed it Nov. 4, 2-16.

The county’s options are many. Supervisors could ban marijuana dispensaries or approve and regulate them in a number of different ways. Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said the county has until January 2018, when the state agency charged with regulating marijuana is due to bring licensing rules online, to put together a plan of its own.

The state will respect the county’s decision to a point, she said. “There are no licenses being issued by the state until that agency goes through its process,” Oviatt said. “If the county decided it did not want these things, then the state would not issue licenses.” But, Oviatt said, the county can’t ban the transport of marijuana through its jurisdiction — unincorporated Kern.

Oviatt said banning marijuana dispensaries and operations could create a situation where people have to drive farther to obtain marijuana, impacting air quality and other aspects of the environment. Or, she said, dispensaries in neighboring parts of the state would simply be able to drive into Kern County to deliver marijuana while Kern missed out on the sales taxes on the product Proposition 64 created. But the county can’t sit back and let the state determine how marijuana is handled here, she said. “If we do nothing, the state of California will issue licenses” for all the marijuana uses allowed under state law, Oviatt said.

Supervisor Leticia Perez noted that the last time the county defended its past ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in court, Kern lost because it had not investigated the environmental impacts of that ban. She said the environmental review is a smart way to deal with the issue of how to manage marijuana.

All five supervisors voted to move forward with the $320,430 contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. to prepare the environmental report. Speakers urged the board to seriously investigate the issue.