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Merced plans study session on medical cannabis

Marijuana plants with their buds covered in white crystals, called trichomes, are nearly ready for harvest in the “Flower Room” at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill., in September.
Marijuana plants with their buds covered in white crystals, called trichomes, are nearly ready for harvest in the “Flower Room” at the Ataraxia medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill., in September. The Associated Press

Merced officials this week will revisit their decision to ban all dispensaries, cultivation and sales of medical cannabis.

The Merced City Council will hold a study session on medical marijuana at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 678 W. 18th St.

The council voted unanimously in January to pass an ordinance that bans cannabis cultivation and sales, with the caveat that it planned further research on the city’s needs. Councilman Noah Lor was absent from that meeting.

Cultivation and sales of cannabis have never been legal in Merced, city leaders have noted, but the city needed to pass the ordinance if it wanted to retain local control on regulations. State bills passed in October would put the city under the state’s marijuana regulations if the council did not complete an ordinance by March 1.

The study session is set to look at whether the city should allow medical cannabis dispensaries, delivery and cultivation. Also, the council will discuss how many of each type of business should be allowed, and where they should be located.

During the January meeting, the council chambers were filled, and about two dozen speakers shared how medical cannabis has aided them or their loved ones.

Supporters have argued that the sale of cannabis could also benefit the city, which has struggled with a lack of tax dollars in recent years. Merced is in no position to turn away more revenue, they argued. The advocates even have local business on their side.

“The chamber supports responsible planning, responsible use of medical marijuana,” Adam Cox, CEO of the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce, said in January.

Still more advocates argue that not allowing dispensaries or delivery services makes it harder to get regulated medical marijuana. Some said they don’t want to have to buy it on the street, where they may have to deal with unsavory people and unsafe products.

That January meeting was sometimes contentious, with the mayor asking the crowd to be silent more than once. Members of the audience called out and even booed at points during the meeting.

No member of the council has voiced any doubt that cannabis benefits those using it for medical purposes. They said they needed more time to draft the proper ordinance.

The Merced City Council plans the study session on medical marijuana at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 678 W. 18th St.

City Council meetings are streamed live on the Internet; a link to the meeting and past videos is at www.cityofmerced.org. The meeting is also shown live on Comcast’s Government Channel 96.

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