Given the tough marijuana decision voters will face on the November ballot, some in Kern County may need a few pointers about the pros and cons of legalizing cannabis dispensaries throughout the county.

And that’s just what happened at Cal State Bakersfield, which held a “community conversation” on marijuana policy in Kern County Thursday evening.

With their notepads out and pencils at the ready, an overflow crowd of mostly CSUB students packed into the Dezember Reading Room at the Walter W. Stiern Library to listen to a panel of marijuana experts.

Multiple years of marijuana research have come up with inconclusive results about the effects of marijuana legalization, said Dr. Josh Meisel, co-director of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research.

Although some studies have shown a statistical association between cannabis use and poor health outcomes like respiratory problems and the development of schizophrenia, other studies have offered conclusive evidence that marijuana use can aid patients therapeutically.

But some experts are concerned about the potential widespread legalization of marijuana dispensaries in Kern County.

Ana Olivera, a system administrator for Kern Behavioral Health, said legalization of dispensaries could lead to more exposure for young children.

“You’ve probably heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that’s really our stance,” she said.

There could be a financial reason for the county to legalize dispensaries.

A third speaker, Dirk Horn, a lecturer of political science at CSUB, said the cost of banning dispensaries in Kern County was $1.2 million to $2.7 million per year, while regulating and taxing the drug could net $30 million and create 9,000 jobs.

He blamed the city of Bakersfield and the Board of Supervisors for allowing three ballot initiatives to potentially shape marijuana policy in Kern County because it takes those entities out of an active role in the process, ceding control to outside groups.

“You can’t put your head in the sand and expect this to go away,” he said.

Voters in Bakersfield will see three marijuana measures on their ballot this November, and voters in unincorporated Kern County will see two.

Each measure, which qualified for the ballot through petition drives, would change marijuana policy in Kern County in subtly different ways.

Although marijuana is legal to possess and use throughout California, Bakersfield has outright banned marijuana dispensaries, and Kern County has banned new dispensaries from opening, while allowing around 30 medical cannabis dispensaries to temporarily remain open.

Measure O would overturn the Bakersfield ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, allowing new dispensaries to open within city limits. The dispensaries would be regulated through state permits and a 7.5 percent business tax would be placed on the dispensaries’ income.

Measure J would function similar to Measure O, allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to open within the boundaries of unincorporated Kern County. A 7.5 percent business tax would also be placed on the dispensaries’ income.

Measure K would allow for both recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries, but it would limit such dispensaries to 35. It would adopt slightly stricter regulations on where those dispensaries could go than Measure J, and it would only allow marijuana cultivation, processing and distribution facilities in two zones along Interstate 5.

A 5 percent tax on gross receipts would be enacted with Measure K.

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