Our View: Ordinance could curtail big pot grows

August 3, 2013 

The Merced County Board of Supervisors is considering a medical-marijuana ordinance in an effort to better combat large marijuana growing operations.

The county follows state law on allowable amounts of medical marijuana, which is a maximum of six mature or 12 immature marijuana plants, in addition to 8 ounces of finished product.

The proposed ordinance sought by the Sheriff's Department would limit the cultivation of medical marijuana to 12 plants regardless of the property's size, whether it's indoor or outdoor, or the maturity of the plants.

It also would carry stiffer civil and criminal penalties, including abatement at the owner's expense, an administrative procedure resulting in penalties or a misdemeanor charge resulting in six months in jail and-or a $1,000 fine.

Chairwoman and District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said the county previously has not placed regulations on medical marijuana, attracting some growers who have used their operations for illegal financial gains rather than medicinal purposes as outlined in the state's Compassionate Care Act.

The sheriff, other county law enforcement officials and supervisors have correctly identified this problem.

Large marijuana growing operations go far beyond what voters intended when they approved Proposition 215. They are strictly for-profit, too often associated with gangs and pose a serious threat to those living nearby.

Law enforcement officials have consistently been called upon to raid large-scale grows that cover not only entire back yards, but sometimes many acres. While some of these grows are tucked away in remote corners of the county, all too often they are put at homes throughout the area.

The drug dealing, theft, burglary and other criminal activity that springs from these operations is a serious threat to public safety. Shootings and homicides have been reported as a result of home-invasion robberies carried out by criminals trying to rip off those growing the marijuana — sometimes targeting the wrong residences.

Gangs are typically associated with these drug enterprises and use the proceeds to support other illegal activities. Many officials have linked the large grows to Mexican drug cartels — easier to grow it here than transport it across the border.

Law enforcement needs an ordinance that will allow them to more effectively combat these large marijuana-growing operations. The Sun-Star supports the proposed ordinance for that reason.

People who have a legitimate, documented medical reason for growing marijuana don't need a back yard full of plants. They can grow what they need under the proposed ordinance.

Some in law enforcement have suggested that banning all outdoor growing operations might be a better approach. That's still an option for the county if the proposed ordinance proves ineffective.

But what's being proposed seems like a reasonable step. It shouldn't threaten legitimate medical marijuana uses but should make those behind large-scale grows think twice about coming to Merced County.

And if not, then a more restrictive approach is always an option.

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