City weighs pot-growing co-ops

October 06, 2006

Steve Moore, Press-Enterprise

Roger Fisher says strictly run medical-marijuana dispensaries help patients and "get rid of the criminal element."

Elyse Goodwin says the drug is the "only thing that works" for her husband's Parkinson's disease.

Jeff Matisoff implores, "Don't make us criminals again."

On Friday, about three dozen medical-marijuana advocates lobbied their cause at a meeting of the city's medical-marijuana task force.

Growing Cooperatives

They are unhappy about a draft ordinance recommended by City Attorney Douglas C. Holland calling for growing-cooperatives for medical marijuana instead of storefront dispensaries.

Currently, Palm Springs has two medical-marijuana dispensaries. One was raided this week but reopened.

Holland sees fewer legal issues with co-ops.

A section of the proposed ordinance, which still needs City Council approval, reads, "It is anticipated that dispensaries in Riverside County will be the subject of close scrutiny by law-enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal level ..."

Some in the audience complained that severely ill patients can't grow their own medical marijuana and others could be forced to rely on street dealers.

Councilwoman Ginny Foat, a task force member, supported the idea of medical-marijuana co-ops in the draft ordinance. She recommended heeding the city attorney's legal advice.

The ordinance could be amended later as court rulings clarify the dispensary issue, Holland said.

"Something is better than nothing," Foat said.

The councilwoman plans on having a state legislator ask California Attorney General Bill Lockyer for a legal opinion on medical marijuana.

District Attorney's Report

Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask issued a report recently urging a ban on the dispensaries and condemning marijuana use as a federal crime. But the district attorney said he won't prosecute sick people using marijuana in accordance with state law.

The city attorney called Trask's white paper "death on storefront dispensaries."

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to prohibit dispensaries and growing-cooperatives in unincorporated areas.

Supervisor Roy Wilson voted against the majority.

He said the county should regulate dispensaries and provide safe access for patients.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since voters passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996.

The law allows patients with a doctor's recommendation to transport and use marijuana to treat symptoms of illnesses such as cancer and glaucoma or chronic pain.

In Palm Springs, under a co-op medical-marijuana ordinance, a permit would be required.

It would include a 10-year criminal background check for the applicant and those involved in managing and supervising the facility.

The co-ops must have a current list of all employees and all qualified patients and caregivers with access on behalf of those patients. A copy of each patient's doctor's written recommendation must also be on file.

Cooperatives must retain financial records showing they are a bona fide nonprofit entity in compliance with the Compassionate Use Act.

No cannabis shall be smoked, ingested or consumed on the premises, and only marijuana grown on the premises may be distributed.

A monthly inventory of marijuana is required, recording the total quantities distributed.

Lanny Swerdlow of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, told the audience, "You've got to get involved with your time and money because if we're going to make any progress, that's what it's going to take."

The medical-marijuana task force's next meeting is at 4 p.m. Oct. 26 at Palm Springs City Hall.

Reach Steve Moore at 760-837-4417 or

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