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Merced users, advocates of medical marijuana gain a win

A fuller than normal Merced City Council chambers held a emotional crowd on Wednesday as the Planning Commission discussed an outright ban on cannabis sales, cultivation and delivery, including that used for medicinal purposes.
A fuller than normal Merced City Council chambers held a emotional crowd on Wednesday as the Planning Commission discussed an outright ban on cannabis sales, cultivation and delivery, including that used for medicinal purposes. tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

Medical cannabis users, growers and sellers won a small battle this week in Merced, when the Planning Commission recommended loosening the constraints of an ordinance that would ban marijuana commerce or cultivation entirely within the city limits.

The first statewide licensing and operating rules for pot growers, manufacturers of cannabis-infused products and retail weed stores would give commercial operations the ability to sell in the state unless city ordinances specifically prohibit it. The law was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October.

Cities have until March 1 to adopt their own regulations – if they want to – before the state imposes its regulations. An ordinance before the commission Wednesday would have prohibited cannabis sale, delivery and cultivation anywhere within city limits.

“I think this ordinance is uncalled for,” Commissioner Peter Padilla said. “Let’s get into the 21st century and move forward.”

Padilla said he believes cannabis is here to stay and will continue to circulate within the city even under the stricter ordinance. So, he said, the city should make the effort to allow it but regulate it.

I think this ordinance is uncalled for. Let’s get into the 21st century and move forward.

Commissioner Peter Padilla

During the public hearing for the ordinance, all 19 speakers argued against the stricter constraints. The commission voted unanimously to have staff draw up an ordinance that would allow dispensaries and delivery businesses to set up in designated areas, and would allow residents with marijuana cards to grow up to 12 plants per parcel, aligning the city with Merced County’s ordinance for unincorporated properties.

The commission meeting was sometimes contentious, with the audience shouting, causing more than one commissioner to threaten to have people removed from the room.

Christine Meeusen, 55, of Merced, also known as “Sister Kate,” spoke of her marijuana-growing business in Merced that could add to tax dollars in a struggling city. Sisters of the Valley, her Merced-area medical marijuana growing cooperative, specializes in cannabis for cancer patients that does not include THC, the part of the plant that causes users to feel stoned.

“We want to grow this business,” she said. “We want Merced to be our home.”

She said she doesn’t necessarily need a permit from the city, but wants to be able to sell here and benefit Merced with tax dollars.

Also speaking out against a stringent ban was Lindsey Sexton, 17, of Empire, who travels down with her family for treatments at Kiona’s Farm’acy in downtown Merced.

Fighting back tears, Sexton said she is going through a second bout of chemotherapy. She was diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian cancer about a year ago, and said she has tried both traditional drugs and cannabis oil to prevent nausea and dull her pain.

She said cannabis has worked much better for her. “My use of cannabis is very facilitated and clinical,” she said. “It’s administered to me through a holistic doctor. I’m not using this to get high.”

My use of cannabis is very facilitated and clinical. It’s administered to me through a holistic doctor. I’m not using this to get high.

Lindsey Sexton, 17, of Empire, who uses cannabis oil to soothe chemotherapy side effects

Diana Westmoreland, 59, of Merced said she’s had a number of relatives die from cancer. She said she does not have a medical marijuana card, but wishes cannabis had been available to help her loved ones.

She questioned the city’s efforts to rush the ordinance into effect. City staff noted the law was signed in October, and the City Council must decide by January if it wants to set its own regulations so it can be law by March 1.

Commissioner Bill Baker said he had “preconceived notions” about the need for a strict ban, but that the stories from many of the members of the audience swayed his decision.

“I didn’t come here tonight to be that amiable about it, but your testimony has convinced me that we need to take more thought into this,” he said.

The Merced City Council is set to have the final decision on the ordinance on Jan. 4.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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