Medical pot advocates sway council to hold ban

October 27, 2005

K Kaufmann, The Desert Sun

Rumors of a medical marijuana dispensary in Palm Desert were made flesh Thursday night as Stacy Hochanadel, the dispensary's owner, addressed the City Council during an emotional session in which it shelved a proposed ban on dispensaries.

"We're trying to bring (medical marijuana) here to people here," said Hochanadel, 29, the father of three, whose own father, Larry Hochanadel is on the Palm Springs Planning Commission.

Hochanadel was one of a string of medical marijuana advocates - most of them patients who use the drug to relieve symptoms of chronic illness - who addressed the council, asking it not to pass the dispensary ban. In Hochanadel's case, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 18 and started smoking marijuana to relieve extreme pain and restore his appetite after surgery.

The dispensary ban had passed first reading unanimously at the council's Oct. 13 meeting. But after hearing about the experiences of Hochanadel and other area residents who use medical marijuana, council members voted instead to put a hold on the ban and study the issue further.

"The citizens of California passed through Proposition 215 the medical use of marijuana," said Mayor Buford Crites. "We'll do our best to implement state law (so it's) safe, effective and nonabusive."

Efforts to pass the ban were originally aimed at resolving what Lt. Steve Thetford, Palm Desert's deputy chief of police, sees as a conflict between state and federal law.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June, in Gonzales v. Raich, that federal anti-drug and interstate commerce laws invalidate medical marijuana laws like California's. Since that decision, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer has made several statements maintaining the legality of the California law.

The council directed city staffers and police to work with Riverside County officials who are now formulating zoning regulations for dispensaries. The county implemented a 45-day moratorium on dispensaries in its unincorporated areas in August so it could come up with rules on where they should be allowed and how to ensure that only patients with a doctor's recommendation can get the drug.

Thetford, a strong advocate of the ban, said he would work with the council but sees the state-federal conflict as still unresolved.

Hochanadel said at his dispensary - Hempie's at 73-350 El Paseo - clients must provide a picture ID and a doctor's letter, which he confirms by phone.

"There is a certified level of safety," he said.



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