Earlier this week, nonprofit medical-marijuana dispensary Desert Organic Solutions celebrated its third anniversary.
While three years does not sound like a long time, in medical-marijuana-dispensary terms, it’s practically an eternity: Since the June 5, 2010, opening of Desert Organic Solutions, the legal landscape for medical marijuana has been constantly shifting, and as a result, countless collectives and dispensaries have come and gone in that time.
The most recent shift came on May 6, when the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that local governments had the authority to prohibit medical-marijuana dispensaries. Since Palm Springs is the only Riverside County city to license marijuana dispensaries, all medical-marijuana storefronts in the Coachella Valley—other than the three allowed by Palm Springs—were either forced to close, or risk an ugly government shutdown.
Gary Cherlin, the president of Desert Organic Solutions, had nothing to worry about regarding the May 6 legal decision. His dispensary—located at 19486 Newhall St., in an industrial park just off Interstate 10 near the Indian Canyon Drive exit—is the oldest of the three licensed dispensaries in Palm Springs. (The others are the similarly named but unrelated Organic Solutions of the Desert on Ramon Road, and C.A.P.S. on Airport Center Drive.)
On Desert Organic Solutions’ anniversary, Cherlin sat down with the Independent to chat about medical marijuana in the Coachella Valley.
Tell me how you wound up being the president of Desert Organic Solutions. After all, not a lot of people grow up wanting to be the president of a medical marijuana collective.
I had seen a number of people who I knew, including family members, who had sicknesses. My grandfather had cancer and used marijuana for it. … (The mother of) one of my friends … had multiple sclerosis—still has MS—and she was using marijuana for it. All these people were really getting a lot better through the use of marijuana—(it was) not curing these things, but really helping them.
What was the actual impetus (to start Desert Organic Solutions)?
I had seen how beneficial (medical marijuana) was, and even in my life, I had used it for a lot of different things. So I was reading the paper one day, and … there was an article about (the city of) Palm Springs opening it up for anybody who wanted to put in an application and pay the ($7,500) fee to possibly get licensed. … So I figured: ‘You know what? I’ll give it a shot and throw my hat in the ring.’ … It was a lengthy process, going back and forth to the City Council meetings, and basically, when it came down to it, we were one the lucky ones that got a license.
In terms of medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives, etc., you are fairly secure. You’re in a city that supports you, and you’re licensed. However, there’s seemingly always legal drama, most recently in Los Angeles (where voters recently approved an initiative to restrict the number of dispensaries), for example. Are you concerned about the future?
You never know what can happen in the future. I would have never done this if I couldn’t get a license to do it, first of all. I wouldn’t just open up. … I believe that we’re secure. We’re in Palm Springs; they licensed us. But that’s a hard question to answer. You never know.
What are your thoughts on the recent California Supreme Court decision that cities and counties can ban medical-marijuana dispensaries? That resulted in a lot of medical-marijuana operations closing across the valley.
The most important thing, really, is that Palm Springs took the proper steps to make sure the patients in the Palm Springs area and the Coachella Valley had places to go where they could have safe access and quality medication. Kudos to them for doing it.
There are patients in Coachella, Indio and the far parts of Palm Desert, and so on, and if they’re not doing well, it’s going to be a major task for them to drive the 25 miles or so each way to get to a dispensary here in Palm Springs. Would you support other cities in the valley—like, say, Indio—opening doors to dispensaries or collectives?
100 percent. Of course I’m in support of that. I want patients to get their medicine. That’s why I said the most important thing is that Palm Springs did this (allowed medical marijuana collectives), because if they hadn’t, (no collectives) would be here. So, yeah, I am supportive. It’s up to the cities and the counties to make their own decisions. I think the most important thing is that patients have somewhere to go to get safe access in a regulated environment.
What do you think you and your fellow members have done right? After all, you’re the only dispensary here to have made it for three years.
The main thing was getting the license, obviously. We have kept prices down and always have different specials every day of the week for patients. We offer discounts to veterans. Our prices are compassionate, and I think the main thing is we have very high quality medication. The cream always rises to the top, so to speak. (The patients) go to the different dispensaries; they know what medicine is out there, and the main thing that I have focused on is quality.
Where do you get the medication?
Patients who have excess; that’s what the rule is. That’s the law.
If another city in the valley were to start accepting applications for dispensaries, would you consider having Desert Organic Solutions apply, so you could help more people? Or are you just focused on this location?
We’re focused on this location. I haven’t even thought about the future. We’re really trying to focus on the best things we can do for the patients who are here.
Do you wish that marijuana were legal to everyone? Or do you think the medical system we have right now—where patients who need it can get it—is enough?
I am more concerned about the medical aspects of it, for the patients. I don’t have anything against it, if states want to approve it for recreational use. But that’s not my focus. My focus is really to help the patients.
Desert Organic Solutions is located at 19486 Newhall St., No. 102. For more information, call 760-288-4000, or visit desertorganicsolutions.com.