Sheriff's Department proposes ordinance on medical marijuana

June 12, 2006

James Burger, Bakersfield Californian

An administrative cocktail of pot, privacy concerns and police powers stopped the Kern County supervisors in their tracks Tuesday.

Kern County Sheriff's Department deputies say they need to regulate businesses that dispense marijuana legally under state law.

They brought supervisors an ordinance that would impose zoning, permitting and record-keeping rules on the dispensaries.

Medical marijuana users and activists said the ordinance is an invasion of privacy and a tool for law enforcement to harass them.

Supervisors said they need more information and more public input before they decide that this ordinance is right for Kern County.

They postponed a vote on the ordinance for four weeks.

"I think this needs to be regulated, but my problem is (making) a finding of urgency when the law has been in place for two years and we've been working on the ordinance for eight months," Supervisor Jon McQuiston said.

Medical marijuana advocates' biggest problem was with sections of the proposed ordinance that require owners of medical marijuana "dispensaries" to keep detailed public records about their patients and turn them over to law enforcement at a moment's notice.

"This would be a tool for the Sheriff's Department to cross the constitutional rights of patients," said Doug McAfee, president of the Bakersfield chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Chief Deputy Willy Wahl said the ordinance isn't aimed at patients and wouldn't be a government invasion of privacy rights.

But, he said, the county needs to have a way to make sure the dispensaries aren't violating state laws.

Amanda Brazel, Los Angeles county field coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, said the collection and retention of patient and business records is unprecedented and unjustified.

McQuiston said he didn't vote for medical marijuana, but that he shared some concerns with Brazel.

"I don't want to see us set a precedent of greater government intrusion into business," he said. "Do we require banks or other businesses in Kern County to provide this information?"

Wahl said the four dispensaries in Kern County, and any such businesses that might open, need to be regulated and secure.

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