CannaHelp won't turn over client list

April 26, 2006

K. Kaufmann, The Desert Sun (CA)

Customers of Palm Desert's medical marijuana dispensary won't have their names turned over to police after all.

CannaHelp clients will still be required to have a state-issued ID card, starting Monday, but city officials have backed off a requirement that the dispensary on El Paseo provide police with a weekly list of customer names.

Nevertheless, an agreement signed April 10 between the city and CannaHelp owner Stacy Hochanadel makes Palm Desert only the second city in California to require customers at a dispensary to have a state ID card, according to Kris Hermes, legal campaign director for Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group based in Oakland.

San Francisco is the other city with the card requirement, he said, and no city requires dispensaries to turn over client information.

CannaHelp is one of three dispensaries in the Coachella Valley. Palm Springs has two - the Collective Apothecary of Palm Springs, called CAPS, and Palm Springs Caregivers.

Palm Springs recently passed a temporary moratorium on any new dispensaries while it writes an ordinance to regulate them. Hochanadel is a member of the community task force the city is forming to provide input on the issue.

The newest development for CannaHelp was the result of a meeting Wednesday between Hochanadel and Lt. Steve Thetford, assistant chief for the Riverside County Sheriff's Deparment's Palm Desert station.

Thetford set up the meeting to discuss Hochanadel's concerns that the agreement would require him to violate customers' medical confidentiality.

But Hochanadel said after the meeting that there will be "no release of records."

 

"We're going to a visual inspection and open-door policy," he said. "Basically, they can come in and look at records."

"We don't really want to be responsible for the names and all that information," Thetford said, referring to dispensary concerns about local authorities turning over customer information to federal agents if requested to.

California voters approved a ballot initiative, Proposition 215, legalizing medical marijuana in 1996. But using, selling, and distributing the drug is still illegal under federal law.

And last week, the federal Food and Drug Administration released a statement reiterating its position that marijuana has no medical benefit. But the FDA has approved a drug called Marinol, a synthetic form of THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana.

Wednesday's meeting in Palm Desert effectively nullified the most controversial requirements of the agreement while keeping its main condition that Hochanadel sell only to customers with state-issued medical marijuana identification cards.

Hochanadel said the dispensary will accept all state-issued cards, whether or not the cardholder is a current Riverside County resident.

The county began issuing cards in December, but only to county residents. Victoria Jauregui Burns, program chief at the Riverside County Department of Public Health, said 207 cards have been issued to date.

Only 30 of the dispensary's more than 700 clients have cards, Hochanadel said.

Part of the problem is that area clients have to go to the county public health department in Riverside to get a card, he said.

Burns said the department is working on a plan to have staffers come to the Coachella Valley to process card applications on a weekly or monthly basis, but has yet to set a definite date or location.

Some of CannaHelp's clients live in San Bernardino County, which does not issue the ID cards, but Hochanadel said customers without cards will be turned away beginning Monday.

"We might take a hit in the beginning," he said, "but that's what we need to be legitimate."

Thetford said if the dispensary is found selling to anyone without an ID, the city attorney will be notified.

City Attorney David Erwin, who negotiated the original agreement, said, "I think there's pretty good communication between Steve and Stacy. Whatever Steve thinks is appropriate from an enforcement standpoint is fine with me."

Under state law, having an ID card is optional for medical marijuana users, but they are required to have a doctor's letter of recommendation.

Thetford said verifying the letters is difficult for police officers, especially outside regular business hours. In several incidents between November and January, Palm Desert police stopped CannaHelp clients and cited them for possession of marijuana because they were unable to verify their letters of recommendation.

The state card can be verified 24 hours a day, seven days a week through a state-sponsored toll-free phone number.



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