Pubdate: Tue, 27 Mar 2007
Source: Desert Sun, The (Palm Springs, CA)
Copyright: 2007 The Desert Sun
Note: Does not accept LTEs from outside circulation area.
Author: K Kaufmann, The Desert Sun
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Cited: Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


A Year After Major Raid, Valley Cities Struggle to Resolve State, Federal Law

Garry Silva was set to pick up his state-issued medical marijuana ID 
card the day the Drug Enforcement Administration and Riverside County 
sheriffs raided his home.

The Sky Valley resident was growing medical marijuana - less than 100 
plants - for a small group of patients while giving the surplus to 
CannaHelp, a dispensary in Palm Desert. It was the kind of grow 
that's supposed to be legal under California's medical marijuana law, he said.

The raid a year ago this month was the first in a series of federal 
and county actions targeting medical marijuana dispensaries - and in 
Silva's case, an individual patient - in the Coachella Valley.

Today, reverberations are being felt throughout the state as counties 
and cities wrestle with their obligations under state laws that allow 
medical marijuana and possible liability under federal laws that ban it.

Last week, two valley cities, Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs, 
extended moratoriums on dispensaries for another year.

Desert Hot Springs also went to court to get a temporary restraining 
order against Organic Solutions, a dispensary on Palm Drive that 
operates in violation of the city's moratorium. The dispensary has 
closed its doors temporarily, owner Jim Camper said.

On the county level, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office 
charged Silva with possession and cultivation of marijuana, claiming 
the number of plants violated state law, said D.A. spokeswoman Ingrid Wyatt.

Silva said he was injured during the raid and is now permanently disabled.

"I've been slowly losing ground," he said. "I still take a lot of the 
really heavy medications; my movement is really limited. Some days I 
can't get out of bed at all."

Silva's case was continued until May 18 during a recent preliminary 
hearing at Riverside County Superior Court in Indio.

"It's a really tough battle for everybody that's been involved," said 
Stacy Hochanadel, owner of CannaHelp, who also faces county felony 
charges of possessing and selling marijuana.

"We're all just trying to get them to do something to regulate a law 
that's been in existence for 11 years," he said.

Feds Focus on California

Eleven states now have laws legalizing medical marijuana, with New 
Mexico set to become the 12th. But California - with its many large 
and, in some cases, flashy dispensaries - has been the focus of federal action.

Federal officials raided 11 Los Angeles-area dispensaries during one 
day in January, the largest-ever crackdown. They returned to one of 
the clinics in West Hollywood this month, breaking down a door and 
seizing records.

The raided clinics on average raked in $20,000 in profits each day, 
DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen said.

In the Coachella Valley, Hochanadel and two of his managers, John 
Bednar and James Campbell, also have been charged with making 
excessive profits, but by the county, not the DEA.

Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco maintains the state's 
medical marijuana law does not allow storefront dispensaries, a 
position first outlined by his predecessor, Grover Trask, in a white 
paper last year.

County sheriff's agents raided CannaHelp, at 73-350 El Paseo, in 
December, and Hochanadel, Bednar and Campbell were charged with three 
marijuana-related felony counts.

The warrants for their arrests cited gross profits for the dispensary 
of about $40,000 a week, with half funding expenses, including buying 
medical marijuana, and paying employees and taxes.

The remaining $20,000 was split between Hochanadel, Bednar and 
Campbell, with Hochanadel getting half and the two managers getting 
25 percent a piece, the warrant shows.

A preliminary hearing this month was delayed until April 2.

The dispensary is open, but operations have been scaled back, Hochanadel said.

He and others would like to see better regulations for dispensaries 
in the state law.

"I think the Legislature needs to get involved," said Kris Hermes, 
legal campaign director for Americans for Safe Access. "Where there 
aren't regulations that explain how a facility like that should 
operate, there will be a wide array of people (who) will think it's 

Assemblyman Mark Leno, one of the original authors of the state law, 
sees no need to clarify it.

"Micromanaging how private businesses operate is not something the 
state should be involved in," said Leno, D-San Francisco.

Fear of federal prosecution has been a factor in recent city council 
votes for moratoriums on the licensing of dispensaries.

In addition to Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs, moratoriums are 
also in effect in Coachella, Indian Wells, Indio and Palm Desert.

Speaking at the Public Safety Committee of the Coachella Valley 
Association of Governments in January, Thomas P. O'Brien of the U.S. 
Attorney's Office in Los Angeles said city governments that passed 
laws allowing dispensaries could be seen as aiding and abetting under 
federal law.

"We were told at that meeting the federal government can and most 
likely will prosecute (cities allowing dispensaries) because that 
city is violating federal law," Desert Hot Springs Mayor Pro Tem Mary 
Stephens said. "Federal law was in place first, and federal 
supercedes California law."

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said 
O'Brien's comment was not meant as a threat.

"That's never been a position that the Justice Department has taken," 
Mrozek said.

Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said he was 
not aware of any federal cases against individual cities.

"There are plenty of municipalities that have (dispensary laws) - San 
Francisco, Oakland - it's never happened," Mirken said.

Concerns about federal liability remain a sticking point for the Palm 
Springs City Council, which has been working on a dispensary law 
since last year, said City Attorney Doug Holland.

"What is causing the most amount of grief is that the council, in 
trying in good faith to implement the Compassionate Use Act, could 
find themselves at the end of a criminal suit," he said.

At the request of the city, state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, 
has asked state Attorney General Jerry Brown for a legal opinion on 
the liability issue, a process that generally takes four to six months.

In the meantime, the official line from the attorney general's office 
is noncommittal.

"The attorney general's office has had a policy of deferring to local 
law enforcement agencies on the dispensary question, and that policy 
has not changed," said Nathan Barankin, spokesman for the office.

Definitions Still Ambiguous

The uncertainties surrounding dispensaries in the valley have 
prompted patients to take matters into their own hands.

Lanny Swerdlow, head of the patient-support group Marijuana 
Anti-Prohibition Project, has launched efforts to form what the group 
is calling a patients-dispensing cooperative.

The idea is for a patient-run dispensary with marijuana provided by 
the kind of small cooperative grows that state law envisions. To 
belong to the collective, and get marijuana, members would have to 
volunteer a few hours a week for the group.

An organizing committee is now meeting regularly to work out the 
specifics of the project, said Twentynine Palms resident Red Toph, 
who heads up the Joshua Tree meetings of MAPP.

"The (patients dispensing collective) - that's going to be an 
umbrella that going to help interface between patients and growers," 
Toph said. "We're looking to set up a way so people can enroll."

So far, Holland has given the proposal a cautious thumbs-up.

"It has a sound basis for ultimately working, but it needs to be 
fleshed out," he said.

Still, state law remains vague on exactly what a collective or 
cooperative is - a problem for patients who want to grow for others, 
as Silva did before the raid.

"There isn't a legal definition," said Wyatt, from the D.A.'s office. 
"A collective or cooperative are a group or number of people in a 
group-like setting who are participating in the same venture - that 
would include those are using medical marijuana."

Marty Victor, a medical marijuana patient in Temecula, grows for a 
group of six or seven patients, he said, cultivating about 42 plants 
in his back yard.

Silva said he had about 40 mature plants and several dozen seedlings 
at the time of the raid. He has not grown any medical marijuana 
since. He and wife Krista spent the first anniversary of the raid at home.

"We were up at 5:30 (a.m.)," Krista Silva said. "I kept hearing 
things. You don't actually realize how traumatizing it is."



The Riverside County District Attorney's Office issued a white paper 
in September 2006 arguing that storefront dispensaries are not 
allowed under California's medical marijuana laws, a view that 
patients and advocates in the Coachella Valley strongly oppose. After 
the white paper, the county Board of Supervisors banned dispensaries 
in unincorporated areas. Cities in the valley continue to wrestle 
with the issue.

Cities With Moratoriums: Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, 
Indio, Palm Desert and Palm Springs. Cities without moratoriums: La 
Quinta and Rancho Mirage.


CannaHelp: Palm Desert revoked the dispensary's business license last 
year. Owner Stacy Hochanadel now faces county felony charges, but the 
El Paseo dispensary remains open.

Organic Solutions: The dispensary in Desert Hot Springs is 
temporarily closed after receiving a restraining order from the city.

Palm Springs Safe Access Collectives: The recently opened dispensary 
was not grandfathered in when the Palm Springs City Council extended 
the city's dispensary moratorium last week, but it is still in 
business. City Attorney Doug Holland said the city could eventually 
file for a restraining order.



Here's what some of the national voices have to say about medicinal marijuana.

Jennifer de Vallance, White House Office of National Drug Control 
Policy: "(Medical marijuana) is not safe or effective or legitimate 
medicine. The bottom line is our medical system is based on proven 
science. When a drug is approved, it goes through a rigorous process. 
Smoked medical marijuana hasn't met that standard."

Kris Hermes, Americans for Safe Access: "If the federal government 
does not want to be involved in the dispensing of medical marijuana, 
that's fine.

Then let community-based solutions occur in the state of California 
where it's legal. These are well-established dispensaries that are 
clearly abiding by the limited rules set down by state law."

Josie Feliz, Partnership for a Drug Free America: "It's a medical 
issue best answered by the medical community, not in ballot boxes. It 
belongs in doctors' offices and the hands of researchers and medical 
professionals working to help people in pain."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake