CannaHelp owner to defy city cease-and-desist letter

December 18, 2006

K Kaufmann, The Desert Sun

CannaHelp, the medical marijuana in Palm Desert, is staying open in defiance of a cease-and-desist letter from the city. “I'm going to stay open by myself,” said owner Stacy Hochanadel, after sending his other employees home. “I don't think it's right what they're doing.”

The city issued the letter, which Hochanadel received today, following a City Council vote in closed session last Thursday, said City Attorney David Erwin.

The vote was not reported during the council's open session on Erwin's advice.

"I felt this was an action we needed to take, and we needed to take the action before we reported it publicly," Erwin said in a phone interview today. "That was my decision."

Councilman Robert A. Spiegel said the reason for the closed session vote was an investigation "not by our police department but by another police department in California.

"When they were investigated, they sold marijuana to an undercover police person who did not have correct credentials to buy marijuana," he said.

The city is not releasing the staff report presented in the closed session due to the potential for litigation on the closure order, said City Clerk Rachelle Klassen.

Hochanadel signed an agreement with the city earlier this year that the dispensary would only sell medical marijuana to patients with a medical marijuana identification card issued by Riverside County.

But, he said, that part of the agreement had been put on hold following discussions with then-Mayor Jim Ferguson, due to the financial impact on the business which would have had to turn away significant numbers of customers.

California's medical marijuana law requires counties to issue the ID cards, but they are voluntary for patients. The law does require that patients have a letter of recommendation from their doctors.

Federal law bans all use, cultivation or distribution of marijuana.

CannaHelp has had a business license issued by the city since it opened in October 2005. The dispensary was closed briefly earlier this month when the Special Investigation Unit of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department served a search and seizure warrant on the business

But, said Capt. Steve Thetford, chief of the Palm Desert Police Department, "The Palm Desert (department) hasn’t made any significant arrests out of CannaHelp" in recent months, the county investigation notwithstanding.

Spiegel, who said he voted to close the dispensary, would like to see medical marijuana regulated by the federal government.

"It should be dispensed thourgh a pharmacy," he said in phone interview today. "That’s what I would prefer to see happen and hopefully someday that’s the way it will be."

Hochanadel would have liked the city to talk with him before issuing the letter, he said.

"I was hoping my city would stand behind me and support me. At this point they’re trying to pull the carpet out from under my feet," he said.

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