Medical marijuana options grow in Palm Springs
City licenses illegal shop, set to OK a fourth store permit
PALM SPRINGS — The only city in the Coachella Valley to permit the sale of medical marijuana will soon make way for a fourth dispensary.
The Palm Springs City Council voted 3-2 this week to amend the city's 2009 medical cannabis ordinance, which originally called for just two legal dispensaries. It added a third permit in 2010. Zoning changes to allow a fourth are expected to be finalized next month.
The vote Wednesday also awarded the city's third permit — which was stripped last month from a defunct dispensary — to C.A.P.S. Apothecary.
C.A.P.S. is an unlicensed Palm Springs pot collective the city filed suit against in 2009 to shut down.
“We won't be actively pursuing that once the permit goes into effect,” Palm Springs City Attorney Doug Holland said Friday. The suit was close to getting a trial date assigned, Holland said earlier this week.
C.A.P.S. has operated for the past few years in a shopping plaza next to Palm Springs' airport. Dispensary managers declined to comment Friday.
Councilwoman Ginny Foat has staunchly supported C.A.P.S., repeatedly advocating for the business to get a city permit.
Foat said she was impressed with how C.A.P.S.'s service dramatically improved the quality of life for a close friend who was dying of cancer.
“They have been operating outside of the law, that's a fact,” Foat said Friday. “But ... they needed to be there for their patients. I don't agree with what they did, but I understand what they did.”
C.A.P.S. is one of at least six unlicensed medical pot dispensaries operating across Palm Springs.
At the council meeting, Councilman Chris Mills worried about rewarding a business that would “snub (its) nose” at the city's pot ordinance for years. “I can't understand why they're even being looked at in this,” Mills said.
Mills and Councilman Rick Hutcheson voted against the measure to expand the number of legal dispensaries and grant C.A.P.S. a permit.
Hutcheson wanted to wait for an analysis of how the city's two licensed dispensaries have fared — and how many patients they've served — before approving a fourth permit.
“We owe it to ourselves to have that data before we make a decision,” Hutcheson said.
The growing amount of available Palm Springs permits hasn't stopped unlicensed dispensaries from sprouting across Palm Springs.
Most of those rogue operations are in a cluster dubbed “Little Amsterdam,” in an industrial zone near Gene Autry Trail and Ramon Road.
Operators and volunteers at the unlicensed facilities say there's huge demand for their product from thousands of medical marijuana patients in the desert.
“All the facilities should have to go through the same inspections,” said Jim Camper, who operates the city-permitted Organic Solutions of the Desert on Ramon Road.
Camper said there are four unlicensed pot outfits within 1,000 feet of Organic Solutions.
“The playing field should be level,” he said Friday.
Palm Springs city officials have been locked in legal disputes with several of those unsanctioned dispensaries. It has seen limited success shutting them down.
The third city permit, awarded to C.A.P.S., became available in March when the city revoked a permit from CannaHelp.
That dispensary, run by local medical marijuana activist Stacy Hochanadel, had been inoperative for more than 90 days due to issues related to its lease.
Hochanadel did not respond to requests to comment Friday, but city officials say CannaHelp has expressed interest in reacquiring the permit it lost.
Reach Desert Sun reporter Marcel Honoré at (760) 778-4649 or on Twitter @marcelhonore