Marijuana-growing collectives fuel medical debate

October 13, 2006

Steve Moore, Press-Enterprise

PALM SPRINGS - Collectives for growing medicinal pot could someday sprout in industrial-warehouse areas of this resort town.

Under a co-op medical marijuana ordinance, eligible patients or their caregivers -- with a doctor's letter -- could cultivate small amounts.

City Attorney Douglas Holland says collectives face fewer legal challenges than dispensaries.

In a recent interview, Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask said medical marijuana is really supported and advocated by those wanting legalization of drugs all together.

"The whole issue of its medicinal, compassionate use was a way of getting the public to believe it was an appropriate exception. Unfortunately, that exception has been turned into a wholesale advocacy for dispensaries," Trask said.

He said the retail sale of pot is a federal crime.

Two storefront dispensaries now operate in Palm Springs. But city officials have imposed a moratorium while considering the co-op approach.

Tanya Garcia, office manager for the Palm Springs Caregivers dispensary, denies Trask's allegations.

She says there's no intent to legalize recreational marijuana and that her dispensary only serves the legitimate medical needs of patients. Garcia plans on working with Palm Springs officials so the dispensary can remain open.

"Our patients are scared," she said. "They're upset.

Garcia says closing dispensaries would be a hardship on some patients.

Amanda Lucidon / The Press-Enterprise
Tanya Garcia plans to work with Palm Springs to keep open marijuana dispensary Palm Springs Caregivers. Garcia, Caregivers' office manager, says the business's marijuana only serves its patients' medical needs. "Our patients are scared," she says.

Some are too ill to cultivate their own crop in a collective and others might be forced into the arms of street dealers where they could face robbery and violence.

Palm Springs is part of a growing debate in the Inland area about medical marijuana.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors imposed a ban on marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas and joined other counties such as San Bernardino, Merced and San Diego in a court challenge of state medical-marijuana laws.

California voters approved the idea in 1996, but it is still illegal at the federal level.

Corona has enacted a moratorium and sought a restraining order against a dispensary in that city. Norco approved a 45-day moratorium on medical-marijuana dispensaries.

In Palm Springs, marijuana collectives for medical purposes would require a special, city operating permit, Holland said. Final approval on any ordinance rests with the City Council.

Under state law, eligible patients or caregivers could have six mature or a dozen immature plants and not face possession charges in state court, he said.

But federal laws against marijuana still apply.

If collectives are allowed, Palm Springs favors growing the marijuana crop indoors.

Outdoor crops invite criminal activity, pose security risks and could become a problem for police, Holland said.

Mexican marijuana currently fetches $450 per pound in Palm Springs, according to narcotics officers. Higher-quality domestic marijuana sells for $2,200 to $2,500 per pound, said Sgt. Mitch Spike, a public-information officer for the Palm Springs Police Department.

Other dealers break marijuana down into smaller quantities and jack up the price.

Possession of less than an ounce is a misdemeanor but it's treated much like an infraction -- citation, no booking, Spike said. Courts determine the penalty.

Staff writer Kimberly Trone contributed to this article

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