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They’ve been legally growing weed for medicine. Merced County wants to pull the plug

Merced County marijuana ordinance may result in increased costs for medicinal users

Adam Pluguez, 33, of Merced, speaks about his use of medicinal marijuana to help him deal with the side effects of opioids at his home in unincorporated Merced County, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. A newly proposed Merced County ordinance allo
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Adam Pluguez, 33, of Merced, speaks about his use of medicinal marijuana to help him deal with the side effects of opioids at his home in unincorporated Merced County, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. A newly proposed Merced County ordinance allo

With degenerating discs in his back, Adam Pluguez of Merced County lives with daily pain and lack of mobility, but the medical cannabis he grows outside helps him get by.

Originally from Modesto, the 33-year-old said he settled in the unincorporated part of Merced County about four years ago because he was able to grow 12 plants outside and attend school. After finishing at Merced College, he’s now studying computer science and electrical engineering at UC Merced.

Pluguez and other cannabis advocates say they’ve grown their allotted plants outdoors without problems since the county allowed it in 2013. They say the county is pulling the rug out from under them with the proposed plan to push all growing inside.

“Marijuana is the only thing I can take with no dosage ceiling that is not going to affect me in a negative way,” Pluguez said. “I was able to get through two years at Merced College with a 4.0. ... Doing that on morphine alone would have been worse. I’d have to deal with more pain or deal with more fog.”

Twelve plants, if they are raised successfully, can be enough for Pluguez to make it through the year, he said. He takes morphine, but the opiate can be deadly, so cannabis helps with the pain. Though it’s not ideal, it’s the best case scenario, he said.

The use of opioids has made national news in recent months. The number of Americans who died from opioids and other drugs last year was 64,000, nearly twice the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The condition in his back started in his early 20s, Pluguez said. Everybody’s discs deteriorate, but his are doing so at an accelerated rate, causing pain. He uses a cane to assist him while walking.

“Honestly, if I didn’t have to (grow), I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I hate doing it. It’s just cannabis is expensive, insurance doesn’t cover it, and so it’s either (grow) or I have a large expense every month.”

With help from friends, Pluguez said, he processes the plant so he can ingest it through edibles.

Cannabis helps him feel better, allowing him more time out with his three children, according to his wife, Daleana. Buying edibles in a dispensary would poke a hole in the family’s budget the size of a few hundred dollars, which is tough on a fixed income, the couple said.

The proposed change hurts those wanting to grow marijuana legally and follow the rules, advocates argue, saying cartels aren’t going to follow the rules regardless of what the county allows.

“Real medical patients who have chronic pain, like me, consume a lot of marijuana,” Pluguez said. “Anyone growing more than (12) is already knowingly violating the law. They are not going to care what you pass. They’re going to continue to do it.”

Another Merced County grower, the Sisters of the Valley, has pleaded with the county, saying an outright ban on growing will kill its business. The company specializes in plants high in CBD (the medicinal part of the plant) and low in THC (the part that makes the user feel high).

The Sisters, who wear nuns habits, have been in compliance with the existing ordinance, according to Luke Bruner, a consultant who spoke for them during a recent planning commission meeting. The company employs seven people, four of whom are single mothers and six who have had “chronic” unemployment, he said.

“If this shuts them down, folks, they’re going back on the dole,” he said to the commission.

At that same meeting, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said outdoor cultivation brings violence with it. An outspoken skeptic of the legitimacy of medical marijuana, he has said the outdoor cultivation smells bad and affects the “quality of life” of neighbors.

“It’s not that I want to criminalize anything,” Warnke said. “It’s a misdemeanor. You get a ticket, pay a fine. What I’m looking at is take care of the folks that don’t want to smell this stuff.”

The county’s planning commission last week recommended banning outdoor cultivation. The Merced County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the proposed ordinance Nov. 7, with the mandatory second vote scheduled Nov. 14.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453,

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