Proposal to limit marijuana grows in Merced County


Several people spoke out in favor of a proposed ordinance that would limit the number of pot plants allowed on properties in Merced County.

The Merced County Sheriff's Office showed slide after slide of massive marijuana operations across the county during Tuesday's board meeting. Deputies say grows like these have been tied to homicides, robberies, and 14 fires this year alone because of illegal wiring. They're also blamed for dumping dangerous chemicals into local waterways.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said, "You pick the crime, and that's what illegal marijuana grows are associated with."

Several residents also spoke about the violence they've witnessed in their own neighborhoods, where pot plants are growing.

Winton resident, David Ortiz said, "We've got drive by shootings, pedestrians being shot as they're walking on the sidewalk."

"The most important thing they bring here is fear -- fear that somebody is going to bring a gun battle into this neighborhood," said Glenna Havercroft, a Merced County resident. "I don't sit out on my front porch like I used to, I stay inside with my doors locked."

Investigators say drug trafficking organizations are setting up shop in Merced County because it doesn't have any local regulations. That's why the board is now considering an ordinance that would limit the number of pot plants on any parcel to 12. Authorities say that's enough for about 30 marijuana cigarettes a day.

Deputy Ray Framstead said, "These are people are allowed to grow 3 times a year, 12 plants at a time, which equals 36 plants on the year."

No one spoke in direct opposition to the ordinance, but some stressed the difference between cartel operations and small grows for legitimate patients. And two speakers asked for exceptions to protect those who rely on medicinal marijuana.

Mark Germino from Los Banos explained, "I believe more should be considered if the person is supplying other people, patients who cannot supply their own."

The proposed ordinance also has tougher penalties for violators. Including jail time, fines, and paying for clean-up costs.

A second public hearing will take place September 10th at 10am at the board of supervisors chamber.

If the ordinance is approved then, it would take effect 30 days later.

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