Council votes to ban pot shops

May 24, 2007

K. Kaufmann, The Desert Sun

By mid-September, Palm Desert will be a dispensary-free zone.

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to permanently ban medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, while allowing CannaHelp, a dispensary on El Paseo, until Sept. 15 to make a graceful exit.

The council's 5-0 vote makes Palm Desert the 40th city in California with an outright ban, according to the Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group.

About 80 cities have passed moratoriums, while 24, mostly in Northern California, have regulations allowing dispensaries.

The Palm Desert vote ended more than a year of research and municipal wrestling with the issue. Supporters of the ban said it was not specifically targeted at CannaHelp.

"The issue was the law of the state of California vs. federal law," said Jim Butzbach, head of the city's Public Safety Commission, which recommended the ban.

California law allows medical use of marijuana for patients with a doctor's letter of recommendation. Federal law bans all use, cultivation or sale of the drug.

Mayor Dick Kelly also pointed to the vagueness of state law - which neither specifically allows nor bans dispensaries.

One loophole remains. The city ban does not include collectives, which state law allows.

"We will be reapplying for a business license as the CannaHelp collective," said CannaHelp owner Stacy Hochanadel.

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