Palm Springs rethinks marijuana dispensary rules

Xochitl Peña, The Desert Sun

The city’s medical marijuana ordinance may be amended to require cannabis quality testing before the pot is dispensed to patients — a mandate that could be the only one in California, according to city leaders and medical marijuana advocates.

Another potential change to the ordinance would allow a fourth dispensary license, something patients and advocates say can’t come too soon.

City Attorney Doug Holland said he hoped to have the proposed amendments ready for the City Council to debate this month, but is still working on the ordinance and couldn’t say when it would be ready.

Councilwoman Ginny Foat said she hopes to approve any changes before the Nov. 5 election, when voters will be asked to weigh in on a tax that would levy up to $15 on every $100 of medical marijuana sold.

“We’re going to take a look at doing things that the state or federal government should have done … in order to ensure the quality of the product being dispensed,” Holland said. “This is out of the ordinary for local government. This is typically done at state and federal level.”

It is unclear at this time who would pay for the testing, which could detect carcinogens, pesticides, herbicides or if the marijuana is laced with other drugs.

Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a group that lobbies to advance medical marijuana policy at all levels of government, said he doesn’t know of any such testing requirements in the state.

Los Angeles used to have a testing requirement in its ordinance, but it disappeared under Proposition D, approved by voters in May.

“There are more than 1,000 dispensaries operating in California. Many of them do voluntary testing, but not the vast (majority),” Hermes said.

His fear, if the ordinance is enacted, would be higher prices passed on to consumers and an extra layer in getting the marijuana to patients.

“I’m not saying testing is inherently a bad idea, but to the extent it would restrict a patient’s ability to obtain their medicine, it’s not helpful necessarily,” Hermes said.

As for another dispensary, almost two dozen patients and volunteers from PS Organica showed up to a recent City Council meeting to stress the importance of medical marijuana and make a case for receiving a fourth dispensary license.

Palm Springs is the only city in Riverside County that allows medical marijuana shops to operate, but places the cap for such licenses at three.

“I beg that you consider a fourth permit. We really need more medical marijuana dispensaries for this community. We have cancer patients, HIV patients that come every day,” said Steve Cooley, a PS Organica volunteer.

Patients also have been flooding city officials with letters urging PS Organica be issued a permit.

Foat agrees that it’s time for an additional dispensary, but said sending “form letters” that are basically carbon copies will not sway the City Council.

“I’m beginning to get a bit annoyed, ” she said. “This council is not going to award a license just based on the number of form letters and people coming up to the microphone telling us what’s wrong with them.”

She said the City Council would go through the same stringent process in issuing its fourth license as it did in issuing the current three.

“It will be opened to anyone. There will be certain criteria they will have to meet,” she said. “There will be a lot that goes into awarding the other dispensary.”

The city has been working hard to shutter the illegal dispensaries, even filing lawsuits in some cases to force them to close.

In May, two dispensaries — The C.C.O.C. at 650 S. Oleander Road and THC (The Holistic Collective) at 2235 N. Palm Canyon Drive — were ordered by a Riverside County Superior Court judge to close, and police visited to enforce the ruling.

PS Organica and OG Grasshopper are two of just a few illegal dispensaries still operating. Lawsuits have been filed against the shops, but those are still pending.

PS Organica began to receive citations Sept. 5 for operating without a permit. Volunteer Andrew Boedell was there when Palm Springs police showed up to issue the ticket.

“They’re trying to fine us out of business,” he said.

The fines start at $1,000 and work up to $5,000 for each week they remain open, according to the city’s medical marijuana ordinance.

City attorney Holland expected OG Grasshopper to begin receiving citations as well.

The state Supreme Court in May determined that cities and counties have the right to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating in their jurisdictions.

“We’ve taken a lot of steps to warn people. PS Organica has known for a long time that their operation was in violation of law,” Holland said.

“They know darn well they are operating illegally.”