A split Merced City Council has given the green light to limited medical marijuana operations in the city, allowing for four dispensaries and indoor cultivation, a move that won praise from cannabis advocates.
With a 4-3 vote Monday night, the council set in motion Merced’s own regulatory process to oversee the dispensaries, which would be allowed to deliver during daytime hours. However, the council ordered staff not to take applications from prospective dispensary owners until after the system is set in place.
Mayor Stan Thurston and Councilmen Noah Lor and Mike Murphy cast the “no” votes.
With the vote, the council said it will look at hiring a consulting firm to design the regulations and objectively evaluate those who seek one of the dispensary licenses. Those shops would be allowed to set up in commercial office zones, which are the kinds of places that house doctors and dentists.
Medical cannabis advocate Lakisha Jenkins, CEO of the Kiona Foundation, said the council took a “progressive” and “important” step moving to give people easier access to their medicine, which includes allowing six plants indoors.
Merced Council approved four medical marijuana dispensaries and to allow patients to grow six plants indoors.
“I think that it’s a start, but there should be some expansion upon it,” she said.
Jenkins, who has also announced a run for a City Council seat, said she would like to see the city allow outdoor growing. Indoor cultivation can be pricey, she said.
Eric Moore, a Merced resident at the meeting, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about what the decision to usher in dispensaries means for Merced. He said he is not a medical cannabis patient.
“The entire country is wrestling with how and why to bring cannabis out of the shadows,” he said in an email. “The fact that some Merced leadership chose a road less traveled in a timely fashion bodes well for all peoples in good time.”
Moore went so far as to volunteer to be a “pot czar” if the city needed assistance with enforcement.
The council has been mulling over medical marijuana issues during a handful of meetings in the past six months. The council came to a standstill earlier this month when the council vote stalemated over whether to allow dispensaries under city oversight or wait for the state to have a regulatory agency in place.
The fact that some Merced leadership chose a road less traveled in a timely fashion bodes well for all peoples in good time.
Eric Moore, a Merced resident
The state has said it will not award licenses to dispensaries unless they have already been permitted by individual cities, according to David McPherson, a consultant with Hdl Companies, a firm that works with Merced.
Speaking during the meeting, he said his organization, if hired by the council, could set up a regulatory system in Merced in about 120 days. He estimated four dispensaries would draw about 40 applicants.
He also estimated the cost to hire a consultant to be about $50,000, but said that cost could be passed onto the applicants.
Thurston argued the city could be putting its already burdened staff in a tough position if the dispensaries take them away from their effort to bring new business to town, which in turn means new jobs.
“We can’t do both effectively,” he said.