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Pot Store Fight City For Its Life


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Medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives could be banned in Palm Desert come Thursday.

But CannaHelp, a dispensary on El Paseo, still may be allowed to stay open for a few months.

The Palm Desert City Council, as reported on thedesertsun.com, is set to vote on a permanent ban on dispensaries and collectives at its meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday.

If the ban passes, Palm Desert would become the first city in the Coachella Valley to forbid dispensaries or collectives outright. The proposed ban is the same one the council was considering in October 2005, when CannaHelp - then called Hempie's - opened. Patients and advocates urged the council instead to pass a moratorium.

A moratorium was passed in December 2005, with a provision exempting CannaHelp from the ban. But relations between the city and dispensary have been stormy almost from the beginning, with Palm Desert officials repeatedly trying to close the business.

CannaHelp owner Stacy Hochanadel said regardless of the outcome Thursday, he has negotiated an agreement with the city allowing him to keep his dispensary open until mid-September, when his lease on El Paseo expires.

City officials would not confirm the agreement, but Hochanadel said he's not planning to close the business, even if the council passes a ban.

"No way," Hochanadel said in a phone interview Monday. "I'd wait till a judge told me to (close). I still might question that, too. At this point, I'm playing every last little angle I can."

Elyse Del Francia-Goodwin of Rancho Mirage, a regular customer at CannaHelp for the past year, said a dispensary ban "isn't right."

"They're doing a wonderful service to the community," said Del Francia-Goodwin, who bought marijuana at the dispensary for her husband, Howard Goodwin, a Parkinson's disease patient who died earlier this month. "How dare the (city) government take that away."

But Mayor Dick Kelly defended the ban, pointing to the unresolved conflict between state laws allowing medical use of marijuana for patients with a doctor's letter of recommendation and federal laws banning the drug.

"I'm trying to keep myself and the city out of trouble," Kelly said.

At the heart of the controversy over medical marijuana dispensaries, supporters and opponents both say, is the vagueness of California's medical marijuana law, which allows collectives but does not specifically permit or ban dispensaries. An official opinion from Attorney General Jerry Brown on the legality of dispensaries is in the works but not expected until the end of the summer at the earliest.

That is why the council should at least wait to vote on the ban, said Lanny Swerdlow, president of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project.

If the attorney general rules for dispensaries, Palm Desert's "ban could be unconstitutional," Swerdlow said. "They would have to meet again to withdraw the ban."

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420 Magazine
Source: The Desert Sun
Author: K Kaufmann
Contact: k.Kaufmann@thedesertsun.com
Copyright: 2007 The Desert Sun
Website: thedesertsun.com | CannaHelp in crosshairs
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