Wednesday, December 17, 2008

DHS bans medical marijuana dispensaries

Marcel Honore • The Desert Sun • December 16, 2008

Desert Hot Springs tonight became the fifth city in the Coachella Valley to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

The City Council voted 4-1 to ban the dispensaries, with Councilman Karl Baker dissenting.

The city's moratorium expires in February, and the ban will take effect 30 days after a second reading in January, City Attorney Ruben Duran said.

Several on council said they worried a medical marijuana cooperative or collective would strain an understaffed city police department that has its hands full with crime.

"We're right now in reactive mode with our police department," Mayor Yvonne Parks said before the vote. "We have not gotten to the point where we can be proactive."

Baker took a different view. "We've heard all these stories how this is going to be a drain on police department" but none are supported by fact, he said. Baker also criticized Duran for the staff report recommending the ban.

"I am very, very disturbed … that someone with a legal background presents something that is so heavily weighted one way," he said.

Lanny Swerdlow, president of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, implored the council not to pass the ban. No one spoke in favor Tuesday.

Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta and Palm Desert have banned dispensaries. Riverside County also has a ban in force for unincorporated areas.

Palm Springs passed a moratorium on dispensaries in March 2006 but allowed it to expire earlier this year. Coachella has an active moratorium.

Later in the meeting, a 4-1 vote kept Gabriel King on the Planning Commission. Baker and Councilman Al Schmidt proposed the discussion after comments King made at last week's commission meeting on a proposed Art in Public Places program.

"The Building Industry Association has the right" to lobby for a cheaper arts program, King said Dec. 9, but local citizens "don't have the tool of paid lobbyists or the promise of future campaign contributions to affect the vote."

Schmidt, Baker and Parks said the comments crossed the line and implied council members were "on the take," as Baker put it.

King did not attend the meeting. Baker said he would not vote to oust King and called Tuesday's discussion a warning.

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