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Where can adults buy marijuana in Merced County? One city looks to be at the center

Harborside Farms operates in Salinas Valley growing medical marijuana in greenhouse facilities spanning more than 52,000 square feet. Monterey County officials predict pot agriculture could bring in $30 million annually in new tax revenues to the county.
Harborside Farms operates in Salinas Valley growing medical marijuana in greenhouse facilities spanning more than 52,000 square feet. Monterey County officials predict pot agriculture could bring in $30 million annually in new tax revenues to the county. aseng@sacbee.com

Merced County leaders are preparing for the rollout of state marijuana regulations, which will allow dispensaries around California. Your access to a recreational cannabis seller depends on where you live.

Adults who want to use marijuana, whether it’s for fun or for a medical need, appear to have their best chances in Merced. The planning commission on Wednesday voted to recommend an ordinance that allows four dispensaries in certain designated areas.

Proposition 64, approved by California voters in November last year, legalized the possession and recreational use of marijuana. It also legalized the sale of marijuana for recreational use starting Jan. 1, 2018 – but gave cities and counties the authority to regulate or prohibit commercial cannabis operations in their jurisdictions.

The commission also recommended allowing most commercial cannabis businesses in Merced — cultivation, product testing, extraction — but excluded hash bars and vending machines.

Under the recommendation, Merced would deny dispensary permits to anyone convicted of a violent felony or felony drug sales, a clause urged by Commissioner Travis Colby, who also is a Merced County deputy district attorney.

No city in Merced County has approved dispensaries so far, and most of them aren’t even talking about it.

Atwater and Livingston have been looking at allowing businesses to test products or focus on some other part of the business, but adults would not be allowed to buy cannabis in either town unless the councils change their current paths.

The county’s second largest city, Los Banos, has not publicly discussed changes to its total ban on cannabis. Users still have the right to grow up to six plants in their homes, thanks to state law.

Residents in unincorporated parts of the county can grow at home, or they can have it delivered. Merced County supervisors approved an ordinance Tuesday that allows deliveries from state-licensed dispensaries.

The county can’t prevent the delivery service from using public roads, according to Jim Brown, Merced County CEO.

The medical use of marijuana has been allowed in California since 1996 when voters approved Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. But prior to Proposition 64, recreational use of pot remained outlawed. Notwithstanding the two ballot measures, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Merced’s ordinance goes before the City Council on Nov. 20, according to city staffers.

The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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