Ban on dispensaries extended

December 14, 2006

Steve Moore, Press-Enterprise

PALM DESERT - An existing ban on new medical-marijuana dispensaries has been extended for a year.

The delay will allow further study of the issue. Palm Desert already has a medical-marijuana dispensary along El Paseo street called CannaHelp that police raided earlier this month. The dispensary continues operating and lists itself as a "not-for-profit collective."

Investigators seized a large quantity of prepackaged marijuana, sales records, computers and other documents at CannaHelp. They said the dispensary violated the California Health and Safety Code.

They accused the dispensary of operating as a "for profit" business, saying large amounts of marijuana were found -- and that not all of it was sold for medical purposes, officials said.

CannaHelp officials did not respond to a request for an interview.

On Thursday night, a unanimous City Council followed a staff recommendation calling for further research on medical-marijuana dispensaries. The existing moratorium on new dispensaries would have expired Dec. 22.

City staff is gathering data on any adverse effects experienced by other cities with such facilities, and also the likelihood that such effects could occur in Palm Desert, according to a staff report.

"Based on the experiences of other cities, the primary adverse impacts could include increased crime, an increase in driving under the influence of marijuana, illegal drug trafficking near the dispensaries, and thefts, burglaries, and/or robberies at or near the dispensaries," the report stated.

City staff is gathering data and reviewing all city ordinances in California that either prohibit or regulate medical-marijuana dispensaries.

Advocates for the dispensaries say such facilities meet patients' medical needs, have good security and follow the law under Prop. 215, in which voters in 1996 approved the use of small amounts of medical marijuana. The legal limit is less than 8 ounces of dried marijuana and a specified number of plants, officials said.

Federal law still bans the use or cultivation of marijuana.

Riverside County supervisors banned medical-marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas on a 4-1 vote, but stopped short of banning marijuana-growing cooperatives. The Riverside County district attorney says that office doesn't have the right to prosecute patients who are following state laws.

Reach Steve Moore at 760-837-4417 or stevemoore@PE.com



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