Monday, January 12, 2009

Palm Springs to close Collectives

7 dispensaries operating in Palm Springs illegally

K Kaufmann • The Desert Sun • January 10, 2009

With its vote to limit the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city to two, the Palm Springs City Council on Wednesday signaled it is done turning a blind eye to the businesses, some of which have been operating illegally for more than two years.

The 3-2 vote only directed staff to draft the new, more restrictive ordinance, which City Attorney Doug Holland said would likely go back to the council in early February. But Holland said Friday he also will be going to court early next month for injunctions to shut down all dispensaries in business in the city — now estimated at seven.

"We are in the process of preparing the documents," Holland said. "We've already sent out letters notifying them they are illegal operations. We are seeking orders from the court telling every one of the operations they are to cease operating."

The suits will be filed in Riverside County Civil Court, he said.

The decision to go to court, like the two-collective limit and other restrictions in the proposed law, caught dispensary owners off guard.

Under the law, dispensaries would have to be organized as nonprofit collectives or cooperatives, as recommended in the guidelines state Attorney General Jerry Brown issued in August.

"If everybody would close down, a lot of patients would be left to go nowhere," said Lilly Lazarin, owner of the West Valley Patients Association, located on Newhall Street in North Palm Springs.

Before going to court, she said, city officials "need to decide what they're going to do, who's going to be allowed."

Still, Lazarin and other patient advocates gave the council credit for being the only city in Riverside County to consider allowing any dispensaries in the city.

"Palm Springs wants to go slow," said Lanny Swerdlow, president of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, a patient advocacy group. "I can't blame them; they don't want to get their fingers burned."

But Stacy Hochanadel, owner of CannaHelp on Industrial Place, said the two-collective limit could create unintended risks.

"That's just going to put a lot of demand on collectives for a lot of marijuana," Hochanadel said. "That means a lot more cost of initial startup for those two collectives if we're going to do compliance with what the attorney general and the city want."

J. David Nick, attorney for the The Holistic Cooperative on Palm Canyon Way, said any effort to limit the number of collectives in the city could be illegal.

"They cannot deny people the right to have collectives by limiting the number," Nick said. "They have to be consistent with the Medical Marijuana Program Act."

That law, commonly called Senate Bill 420, establishes patients' right to form collectives.

"If you're kicking people out, that's not consistent," Nick said.

He hopes to meet with city officials to discuss the ordinance.

In the meantime, city staff are just beginning to look at how they will set up the licensing process. Officials floated the idea of a lottery at Wednesday's council meeting, but Holland said Friday that was unlikely.

"There's probably going to be some kind of process very similar to an RFQ — Request for Qualifications," Holland said. "They would be reviewed to determine they are in full compliance with the ordinance and (state) guidelines.

"There would be a qualitative review of the operation, how it blends into the area how well it serves the needs of Palm Springs residents," Holland said.

"I think it should be look at everyone's track record, who's done stuff for the community," said Shawn Marley, a volunteer at Community Caregivers, dispensary on Palm Canyon Drive. "I just hope the city chooses wisely."

K Kaufmann covers can be reached at or 778-4622.

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