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Bakersfield marijuana initiative won’t make November ballot

Bakersfield’s Marijuana Initiative won’t be added to the already bulging November ballot despite 22,000 residents having signed petitions supporting the measure.

The proposal to replace the City of Bakersfield’s marijuana dispensary ban with state regulations just hasn’t attracted enough qualified signatures yet.

Kern Citizens for Patient Rights, which has spent nearly $60,000 on the effort, needs at least 15,438 verified signatures for its measure to qualify for a ballot. That’s at least 10 percent of the 154,375 people registered to vote in Bakersfield at the time signature-gathering began.

But Jeff Jarvis, a Kern Citizens for Patient Rights board member, said fewer than half of the 22,000 signatures brought in so far — anywhere from 9,300 to 9,500 — are believed to be verifiable.

“We expected more but we think there may have been some improprieties with voter cards as well as the petitions themselves, so we have an expert scrubbing them for us,” Jarvis said.

“So at the end of the day, given that we have the time, we’re using it to make sure not only are they accurate in our eyes but to help the county or whoever is counting them.”

He was referring to an employee KCPR hired to verify signatures, addresses and voter registration cards before it submits them to the Bakersfield City Clerk’s office. The clerk’s office will count the signatures to make sure enough have been collected and then the County of Kern will verify them.

Timing has for weeks been another hurdle to the Nov. 8 ballot because by law, officials have 30 calendar days to verify signatures from the date they’re turned in, excluding weekends and holidays.

But by Aug. 12, the County of Kern must receive a resolution approved by the Bakersfield City Council calling for the marijuana measure to be placed on the November ballot.

The City Council doesn’t meet again until Aug. 17, so the council would have to call a special meeting to approve that resolution.

If organizers had turned in signatures by 5 p.m. on Monday, for example, officials would have had scarcely more than 10 calendar working days to verify signatures.

Instead, Jarvis said, organizers are looking ahead to the November 2018 general election or to any contest sooner on which to piggy-back.

Richard Iger, the deputy city attorney who prosecutes dispensaries in civil court, said he was unaware of any election sooner.

One big question for Bakersfield is what will happen if Proposition 64 passes in November, City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said recently. The statewide Adult Use of Marijuana Act would legalize marijuana and hemp for adults 21 and older.

“The way we’ve analyzed it is if the Newsom-Parker ballot (initiative) passes, and non-medical marijuana becomes legal, there is the possibility that the City Council may go ahead and pass an ordinance which would then make recreational marijuana not legal” in Bakersfield, Gennaro said.

Any such ordinance would apply specifically to the sale of non-medical marijuana, Iger said recently, because the statewide initiative would legalize possession.

“If the statewide initiative passes, it’s probably going to weigh heavily on what voters want to do with medical cannabis. It’s hard to say what people will be interested in two years from now,” Iger said Tuesday.

Jarvis agreed the November election will offer a clearer understanding of how voters feel about marijuana, but said the Medical Cannabis Initiative would offer regulation and legal revenue to a city where the number of active, illegal dispensaries is believed to number in the mid- to high 50s.

“I don’t think it would be a backward step for the medicinal side,” he said.

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