Public hearing in Merced County to focus on new pot law

Proposed rule would restrict plant quantity

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comAugust 16, 2013 

— A public hearing today will allow community members to voice their opinions about a proposed medical marijuana ordinance that would regulate how many plants Merced County residents can grow.

The ordinance aims to limit the cultivation of medical marijuana to 12 plants for any parcel, regardless of the property's size, whether it's indoor or outdoor, or the maturity of the plants.

It would also carry stiffer civil and criminal penalties for violators, according to county documents.

Today's hearing, held at the Board of Supervisors meeting, comes on the heels of a large marijuana raid at two illegal operations in Stevinson, according to the Merced County Sheriff's Department.

Authorities seized 300 mature plants on Thursday and Friday at two neighboring marijuana-growing operations in the 21000 block of Highway 140, said Sheriff's Department spokesman deputy Delray Shelton.

A search of the first residence turned up about 100 pounds of finished product, 140 plants and two handguns, one of which was stolen. Authorities searched the home next door and seized 160 plants, Shelton said.

Last week's eradication is just one of many, according to data from the Sheriff's Department.

Roughly 105 sites have been raided in the past year, resulting in the seizure of 56,700 plants. More than 200 pounds of finished product and 18 firearms were confiscated, Shelton said.

Within the last 30 days, the Sheriff's Department has eradicated more than 8,000 plants with a street value of $160,000, Shelton said.

Medical marijuana collectives have been operating in Merced County for "several years with minimal local regulations" and are linked to serious crimes such as armed robberies, according to county documents.

Shelton said illegal marijuana operations have been connected to two homicides this past year.

Stiffer penalties with new ordinance

Under the new ordinance, people growing more than 12 plants could face three levels of stiffer penalties: 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.

Following the first public hearing today, a second hearing will be set for 10 a.m. Sept 10. County supervisors will consider possible adoption of the ordinance on that day.

The Board of Supervisors will meet at 10 a.m. today in the board chamber on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building, 2222 M St. in Merced.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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