By Elise Modrovich
Special to the Sun
On December 31, ASHES, a local medical marijuana dispensary cooperative with locations in Wofford Heights and Tehachapi, closed its doors. At least for now. The Kern County Board of Supervisors recently voted 4-1 to prohibit commercial cannabis growing and sales, effectively banning the sale of marijuana even as California legalizes it. Further, the Board is planning to phase out the 28 medical marijuana dispensaries currently operating legally in Kern County. Jay Jamieson, Co-Founder and Treasurer of ASHES, firmly believes this to be just a temporary setback. “The people of Kern County voted for this. What the County has done, bypassing the will of the voters and of the state, is illegal,” states Jamieson. “They already tried this full ban in 2011 and the state courts overruled them.”
In 2016, the state Fifth District’s Court of Appeal, based in Fresno, ruled that Kern County’s actions were “incorrect, and its aggressive pursuit of a de facto ban on dispensaries violated the trust of voters who supported the regulation of dispensaries enacted by Measure G.” The court stated that Kern County violated state election code by making a legal end run around the stated desires of its voters who circulated a petition and legally challenged the supervisors’ efforts to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. “Their own planning commission, EIR and building department recommended keeping dispensaries, and the Board completely ignored them,” says Jamieson.
In response to the Board’s claims that “the presence of marijuana has had a destructive impact on local communities,” Jamieson believes that from a business perspective, “this action by our Board is extremely short sighted. This is a burgeoning industry where Kern County could get in on the ground floor. It has the potential to turn our economy around and they’re blocking it. By shutting down dispensaries, they’re shutting down desperately needed tax revenues for our county and thousands of $20/hour jobs when unemployment here is twice the national average.”
As for attracting the criminal element, Jamieson responds, “You can drive by any time of the day or night and you will not see anyone loitering in front of our establishment,” adding, “Our patients are upstanding, law-abiding citizens, and everyone who walks through our doors are properly screened. We have a security system in place, but we have not had one criminal incident since we opened.”
“Look, I welcome regulations. I want to do this the right way. Kern County has the most lax regulations in the state because they keep trying to out and out ban it, rather than instilling and enforcing proper regulations,” says Jamieson. To that end, Jamieson has closed both ASHES locations temporarily to pursue licensing with the State of California, as well as legal actions with Kern County. “We are currently compliant with the State, we are applying for an Annual License through the State of California, and we don’t want to risk our good relationship there. We just need local authorization. I am going to try and negotiate a settlement with the County, talk to the Building Department and County Counsel, to see if they will honor their agreement,” says Jamieson. “We’re also going through Kern County Superior Court and, if necessary, the Appellate Court to resolve this. If they want to get rid of medical marijuana, the Board must submit it to the voters, period.”
“Both our locations are highly successful. We are frustrated, and our patients are angry. They need their prescriptions,” says Jamieson. But despite all the legal and political hoops he is forced to jump through, Jamieson is forging ahead, undaunted. “As far as I’m concerned, the County has violated the mandates and ‘law of the land’ as handed down by the state court in Fresno. I recognize the will of the people who voted. I want a political solution to this.” Jamieson is optimistic about the outcome. “I’m anticipating this will all be resolved in a few weeks, a couple of months at the most. We are in this for the long haul.”