La Quinta just says no -- to medical marijuana

June 05, 2007

Marcel Honoré, The Desert Sun

The La Quinta City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, making La Quinta the second valley city after Palm Desert to ban the dispensaries outright. Most council members said they supported the rights of California's medical marijuana users, but they voted for the ban to uphold federal law. State law permits the seriously ill to acquire medical marijuana, while federal law prohibits it.

Lanny Swerdlow, director of the Inland Empire-based Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, said the council's support of medical marijuana in principle while creating a ban due to federal law was “typical.”

He presented the council with section 3.5 of the California Constitution, which upholds state statutes above federal law unless directed by an appellate court.

“Federal law supercedes state law, period,” Councilman Stanley Sniff said. “There’s just no conflict. … It is illegal, plain and simple.” City Attorney Kathy Jenson added that state law doesn’t require cities to have the dispensaries.

Councilman Tom Kirk had the language referring to negative "secondary effects" of dispensaries stripped from the ordinance, although it does declare the dispensaries a "public nuisance." Jenson said La Quinta is not required to present any findings before it labels the dispensaries a public nuisance.

Jenson said La Quinta opted to ban the dispensaries rather than create a moratorium like other desert cities, because La Quinta hadn’t received any applications to operate a dispensary. She said the ban would clearly set the city’s policy.

“We are taking a proactive step,” Jenson said. Several at the meeting spoke out against the ban.

La Quinta resident Jim Camper used to own and operate the Organic Solutions of the Desert dispensary in Desert Hot Springs before it recently closed. Desert Hot Springs has a moratorium on dispensaries.

He told the council many of his former 200 medical marijuana clients – most of them elderly – “call him constantly” asking what to do, because “there’s no place to go now.”

Camper, also a medical marijuana patient, and said his only alternative without the drug would be morphine, which he said he would not use.

Kay Wolff, wife of La Quinta’s first mayor, Fred Wolff also spoke against the ban, citing a friend who used medical marijuana to treat pain.

The state’s attorney general is drafting an opinion on whether dispensaries are legal in California, and it’s expected by summer’s end. Swerdlow wondered why the council would not first wait for that opinion.

Councilwoman Terry Henderson noted La Quinta could reverse its decision with another ordinance if either the federal or state government changes its policy.

“Our city is much too small to fight the fight for the state of California,” she said.

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