Medical pot advocates ask county to help

September 11, 2007

Jason Kotowski, Bakersfield Californian

Medical marijuana advocates packed Tuesday night's meeting of the Kern County Human Relations Commission to ask the county to intercede and protect pot dispensaries.

Life's been tough since every medical marijuana dispensary in the county closed after federal drug raids at one of the shops, advocates told the commission. They now have to get their marijuana on the street or grow it themselves, options they say put them in danger of being ripped off or robbed.

Jim McGowen, a former dispensary owner, said marijuana is effective in treating numerous ailments. Everything from anxiety to joint pain can be helped by marijuana, he said.

Marijuana users, or patients, as McGowen called them, shouldn't be targeted by law enforcement.

"People don't use cannabis and do stupid stuff," McGowen said. "They might laugh a lot, but they don't hurt anyone."

While the sale of medical marijuana is legal under state law to people with a doctor's recommendation, federal law says the dispensaries, also called pot shops, are illegal and can be busted at any time.

Kern County supervisors voted in August to leave county ordinances exactly as they are regarding medical marijuana. The county has an ordinance allowing six dispensaries, but those shops closed after federal drug raids.

Dispensary owners and customers have said the county is not providing them with the protection they're entitled to under state law. Supervisors and local lawmen, however, have said they're powerless to protect dispensary owners from drug raids and arrests.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood stopped issuing licenses for dispensaries in July, saying he couldn't issue them and then later help Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrest dispensary owners.

Former dispensary employee John Wayne Wyatt said the county and Youngblood should be held accountable for issuing the licenses and then doing nothing to help those who were arrested for doing something that is legal under state law. Wyatt faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Doug McAfee, president of Bakersfield NORML, a pro-legalization group, said the community is worse off since the shops closed down because there are more dealers on the street and people are afraid.

When asked by commission president Gurujodha Singh Khalsa if he has been negatively affected by the closure of the dispensaries, McAfee pulled out a baggie containing a brownish substance that appeared to be marijuana. He said it was poor quality pot, but it's the best he can get ahold of since the shops closed.

"A simple yes or no would have sufficed," Khalsa said.

The commission will review the paperwork advocates provided and a member will discuss the matter with Bakersfield Police Chief Bill Rector and Youngblood. Then they will decide what the next step should be, Khalsa said.

In other business, former California Highway Patrol Sgt. Alfredo Lopez asked the commission to write a letter on his behalf to Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. Lopez said CHP discrimination forced him out of his job and he wants it back, along with back pay.

Lopez is suing two retired heads of the CHP. Khalsa said the commission would look into the matter, but he was not sure they could communicate with someone involved in an ongoing lawsuit.



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