Central California

Medicinal marijuana group sues Bakersfield over ballot-measure language

The group behind the successful initiative to place a measure on the November ballot that would ask voters to legalize medicinal marijuana dispensaries in the city of Bakersfield has sued the city over the specific language that will appear on the ballot.

The Kern Citizens for Patient Rights alleges in the lawsuit that the language drafted by the Bakersfield City Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the City Clerk, would bias the voter against the initiative.

The lawsuit was filed in Kern County Superior Court July 3. A hearing is scheduled July 13 for a decision on the matter.

Deputy City Attorney Richard Iger said the city would fight the lawsuit.

“I’m going to proceed accordingly, and go through court, and see how it goes,” he said.

The state elections code requires municipalities draft a ballot summary and title for initiatives up for a vote. The code stipulates such language must present the issue in an unbiased manner.

The Bakersfield City Attorney’s Office drafted the disputed ballot language.

“The thing that disturbs me personally about it is we gathered over 33,000 signatures from the citizens of Bakersfield city proper, that read the title and read the short summary that was provided, and none of it was in the document that will be on the ballot,” said Kern Citizens President Jeff Jarvis.

The language under question, which will appear on the ballot should the lawsuit fail is, “Shall the City of Bakersfield adopt the following law: Shall the measure amending the Bakersfield Municipal Code to allow medical marijuana store front dispensaries, cultivation sites, manufacturers, distributors, and delivery operations with a valid permit, and which will impose a 7.5 percent excise tax that will last until terminated by voters, [based on current information fiscal impact is unknown] be adopted?”

Members of the Kern Citizens said they prefer the language that appeared on the petitions handed out to registered voters.

The petition language said the measure, if passed, would replace the current ban on medical marijuana dispensaries with “rules and regulations for medical cannabis that are set forth in the California State adopted Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act of 2015.”

It then referred to the permitting process medicinal marijuana dispensaries will need to go through to open their doors in Bakersfield as well as the zoning requirements.

In general, leaders for the Kern Citizens said they believe the petition language provides more context to the voter.

Jarvis said he also worried voters would not realize the Kern Citizens’ initiative was related to the ballot measure based on the language in the city’s question.

Of particular importance, he said, was the title, which the ballot question currently lacks.

He said he would like the question to be titled “Medicinal Cannabis Initiative” to give voters a clear connection to the petition.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415 or smorgen@bakersfield.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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