Cannahelp Owner Due in Court Wednesday

September 24, 2007

, KESQ ABC TV (Palms Springs)

The owner of a former El Paseo medical marijuana dispensary that recently reopened on Highway 111 and then closed again -- is due in court Wednesday morning along with his two managers for their preliminary hearing on drug charges.

CannaHelp owner Stacy Hochanadel, James Campbell, and John Bednar all face three felony counts each of marijuana possession, sales and transport.

The hearing scheduled for today will help a judge determine if there is enough evidence to order the trio to stand trial.

However, Bednar's attorney, Philip La Rocca said the hearing would likely be continued because Hochanadel's new attorney still had not received some discovery in the case.

Hochanadel shut down his El Paseo location in mid-September after his lease expired following a May vote by the Palm Desert City Council banning medical marijuana dispensaries -- but then he moved to Highway 111 -- in violation of the ban because he said he did not want to let down his 1,500 patients.

However, Hochanadel bowed to what he called "pressure" from the city and shut down his latest location at 73625 Highway 111 Monday.

"Palm Desert threatened to serve me with another cease-and-desist order," Hochanadel said.

Some businesses inside the Highway 111 business complex, including Kumon Learning Center, a math and reading tutoring center for children -- complained about the dispensary, according to Hochanadel.

The center's manager did not want to comment on the complaint.

Hochanadel said he hoped to open a store within the next 60 to 90 days in Palm Springs, where city officials are working on an ordinance that would allow collectives and cooperatives.

"It's just too hard to do business in Palm Desert," Hochanadel said -- noting he would still "deliver" to his patients in the meantime.

On Dec. 19, CannaHelp's El Paseo location was served with a cease-and-desist order by Palm Desert stemming from the alleged sale of marijuana to an undercover officer who did not have a prescription for the drug.

Hochanadel signed an agreement with the city before the order was issued in which he agreed to sell only to patients with proper identification cards issued by the state, according to prosecutors.

Under California law, marijuana can be sold only on a not-for-profit basis and on the recommendation of a physician. The sale and use of the drug for any purpose remains illegal under federal law.

Marijuana and financial records were seized at CannaHelp in December during a raid by Riverside County sheriff's personnel, who alleged the dispensary was a for-profit business, according to sheriff's investigator Manny Garcia.

After a warrant was issued for their arrests, Hochanadel, Campbell and Bednar all surrendered at the Indio Jail last January.

At Hochanadel's Jan. 9 arraignment, his attorney at the time, James Warner, said the dispensary was nonprofit and prosecutors had "no proof" against his client.

However, last month, Judge Thomas N. Douglass granted a request by Hochanadel to remove Warner from the case and replace him with Palm Springs attorney Ulrich McNulty.

Attorneys for Hochanadel's co-defendants expressed concerns that Warner could be called as a witness in the case because he allegedly helped Hochanadel set up his business by providing legal advice.

McNulty said last month it was still too early to tell whom would be called in the case and that he needed a chance to review the discovery.



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