In Merced County, residents over the age of 21 are permitted to grow a maximum of six cannabis plants for medical and recreational purposes in the unincorporated area of Merced County, pursuant to Ordinance 1955. The Merced County Board of Supervisors established the cannabis regulations for Merced County in 2017. Medical and recreational cannabis are legal in California pursuant to the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) signed on June 27, 2017. The MAUCRSA created a single regulatory structure statewide by combining the medical and adult-use regulatory schemes. This law authorizes counties to grant or withhold local permits for cannabis commercial activities.
Ordinance 1955, authorized by the MAUCRSA, allows such individuals to only grow marijuana indoors within a single private residence in a fully enclosed and secured structure located upon the grounds of a private residence. The law requires that the structure be secured by a lock and key or other security devices to prevent unauthorized entry and make the grow area inaccessible to minors. According to Ordinance 1955, cultivation involves the growing, planting, harvesting, drying, processing, or storage of one or more cannabis plants or their parts in any location. Merced County prohibits all forms of outdoor cultivation of medical and recreational cannabis. Qualified individuals in the unincorporated area of Merced County can only grow cannabis for personal use. Cultivation for commercial use is also prohibited. The maximum number of cannabis plants that can be cultivated is six, whether the plants are immature or mature. Persons cultivating cannabis in Merced County must comply with the state law and the following regulations:
According to the Cannabis Ordinance, Section 9.29.050, Merced County prohibits the manufacture of medicinal and recreational cannabis in all zoning districts and all the unincorporated territories of the county. All commercial cannabis activities, including manufacturing, are prohibited and considered a public nuisance.
Merced County bans retail commercial cannabis activities in all zoning districts and all of the county's unincorporated territory. Persons looking to buy cannabis may buy from commercial retail dispensaries outside the county. Cannabis dispensaries are not allowed in Merced County.
Merced County permits cannabis deliveries from medical dispensaries located outside the unincorporated areas of Merced County, provided they possess the M-Type 10 California license. This license permits the retail sale of medical cannabis in authorized locations.M-Type 10 licensees are permitted to deliver cannabis under subdivision B of Section 9.29.050. After obtaining the M-Type 10 license, they will also be required to apply to the Merced County Economic and Development Department (CED) for a business license. The CED then shares the application with the Merced County Sheriff's Department and reviews the applicant's business license against their M-Type 10 license. The CED will only approve the business license if it certifies that the license information is correct, complete, and consistent. If an applicant successfully completes the process, they will be allowed to deliver medical cannabis with Merced County.
The M-Type 10 licensees delivering the medical cannabis must operate in compliance with the applicable laws and regulations of the local jurisdiction where the licensed retailer is physically located. Delivery from M-Type 10 licensees can only be made to qualified patients or primary caregivers in the unincorporated areas of Merced County.
The law requires M-Type 10 licensees that intend to deliver medical cannabis to primary caregivers or qualified patients in the unincorporated areas of Merced County to do the following before commencing the delivery service:
Furthermore, before July 1 of each year, the licensed retailer will be required to provide the Sheriff's Department with proof that they continue to be licensed under the applicable laws of California. They must also prove that they are authorized to operate in the local jurisdiction where the licensed retailer is located. Aside from the annual reporting requirement, licensed retailers must promptly report to the Sheriff's Department any thefts of cannabis or money related to the delivery of cannabis in Merced County immediately they happen.
The Merced County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) processes qualified patients' applications for Medical Marijuana Identification Cards (MMIC) in the county under the MMIC Program. The program provides patients with the state medical marijuana identification card. With the MMIC, law enforcement officers can check the state data system and determine whether a medical marijuana ID card is valid. They can also identify if the individual using the marijuana meets the California Compassionate Use Act requirements.
Applicants looking to obtain a medical marijuana identification card may apply to:
Merced County Department of Public Health
260 15th Street
MMIC applications are processed Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Applicants may also call (209) 381-1015 to book an appointment or make inquiries.
During the application for a medical marijuana identification card, an applicant is required to submit:
An applicant must provide a written application in person to the MCDPH. After the application has been approved, the California Department of Health Services will issue the medical marijuana identification card. However, it will not be issued directly to the applicant; instead, the Department will send it to the local health department. At the health department, it will be issued to the qualified patient or approved designated primary caregiver who applied for the card. The medical marijuana identification card is only valid for one year from the date of application approval. Cardholders must renew their applications yearly if they wish to continue using the card. The process for card renewal is similar to the application process. Qualified patients may only join the MMIC program if they want to; participation is not mandatory.
Although medical and recreational cannabis are legal in Merced County, the county is yet to legalize cannabis commercial activities within the county's unincorporated areas. It only allows medical cannabis deliveries from licensed medical cannabis retailers. Hence, cannabis commercial activities remain banned in the county even though some cities within Merced County have legalized cannabis commercial activities. Due to the absence of cannabis commercial activities, Merced County has not been able to explore the financial potentials of the regulation and taxation of cannabis in the county. The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) releases a quarterly Cannabis Sales by County report, which details the financial impact of cannabis on each county.
The Cannabis Sales by County report only recorded the financial impact of cannabis in California for the years 2020 and 2021. In the first quarter of 2020, Merced County recorded $21.38 per capital sales and $6,030,734 taxable sales. In the second quarter, per capita sales increased to $40.17, and taxable sales was $11,382,379. Merced County per capita sales further increased to $48.03 in the third quarter, while the taxable sales increased to $13,609,766. The fourth quarter of 2020 experienced a slight drop in the per capita sales as $41.01 was recorded, and the taxable sales was $11,621,606.
In 2021, the first quarter experienced a major increase from 2020; per capita sales increased to $51.38, and taxable sales increased to $14,637,051. There was a slight decrease in the second quarter as per capita sales dropped to $50.61 while taxable sales also dropped to $14,415,684. As of the third quarter of 2021, the income had further dropped; per capita sales was $43.83, and taxable sales was $12,485,518.
While cannabis commercial activities legalization, regulation, and taxation can increase the financial and economic impact of cannabis in Merced County, the county has still been able to generate some income from cannabis.
The crime report submitted by the Merced County Sheriff's Office to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reveals how cannabis legalization in Merced County has affected the county's crime rate. In 2016, the year before legalization, Merced County Sheriff's Office reported 22 arrests for marijuana possession and six arrests for marijuana sale/manufacturing. In 2017, the crime data dropped drastically to two arrests each for marijuana possession and sales. In 2018, the marijuana crime data slightly increased to six marijuana possession offenses, and two marijuana sale/manufacturing offenses were reported. In 2019, the crime data dropped again to four arrests for marijuana drug possession and two arrests for marijuana sale/manufacturing. However, in 2020, the crime rate dropped drastically as only one arrest for marijuana possession was recorded.
The Merced County Highway Patrol report submitted to the FBI shows that there were 769 arrests from Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in 2018, while DUIs slightly increased to 785 in 2019, the year after marijuana legalization. However, the number of DUI arrests fell to 534 in 2020.
The crime data for marijuana-related arrests and DUIs in Mercer County shows that the crime rate has generally reduced since marijuana legalization.