Merced voters to decide on a marijuana tax to improve public safety and parks

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Recreational marijuana dispensaries could open their doors in Merced by the end of the year, and city officials are already discussing how to tax cannabis products. They're presenting a plan to voters that would evenly split the money between three city departments.

Merced Mayor Mike Murphy says residents helped develop the priorities for the tax revenue. "There was consistency in asking for some minimum threshold for police, for fire, and for parks and rec."

After a series of town hall meetings, the Merced City Council voted on Thursday to amend the cannabis tax revenue ballot so that police, fire, and parks and recreation would receive at least 20 percent of the money generated from marijuana sales. The City Council would decide how to split up the remaining 40 percent, based on which of the three departments needs the extra funding based on that year's budget.

Merced City Manager Steve Carrigan says they money would help improve fire response times and increase police presence in the city. "The money can be spent on bodies, police officers, cars, equipment radios. It can also be spent on neighborhood watch programs. Right now, we have about 75 (neighborhood watch programs) in Merced. We'd like to double that."

Mayor Murphy says the Police Department needs the extra funds. "We're still trying to build back to the police force that we had before the recession hit so we haven't built back those numbers even though our population has increased."

At the Parks & Recreation department, the money would be used to maintain city parks and create more youth programs. "This has been a common thing. Youth programs, youth programs, youth program so we're really looking to spend a lot of time, and lot of youth programs here in Merced," says Carrigan.

Mayor murphy says they expect the city to generate at least $1 million in revenue. Four dispensaries will open in Merced, and the city is already taking applications for permits.

The tax measure will be on the June ballot and it needs a two thirds vote to go into effect.
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