CVIndependent

Mon09252017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Following the lead of other Coachella Valley cities, Palm Springs has entered the commercial-cultivation game with the approval of the city’s first growing greenhouse.

The city granted the permit to Palm Springs Safe Access, which operates a medical dispensary on Gene Autry Trail. The grow will be located on 14 acres of land that PSSA owns in north Palm Springs, and will be in a 36,000-square-foot greenhouse.

PSSA president and co-founder Robert Van Roo plans to produce organic cannabis using sustainable cultivation methods.

There has been talk among Palm Springs city officials about the possibility of increasing cannabis taxes to alleviate impending pension woes. However, in an interview with the Independent, Van Roo reiterated his commitment to the city.

“This is the first phase of a 14-acre parcel, and we’ll be submitting plans for the next phase to the planning department sometime in the next 45 days or so,” he said. “Palm Springs Safe Access has always been supportive of the city of Palm Springs, and our ultimate goal is to help our community.”

Groundbreaking on the first phase should happen by the end of the year, and Van Roo hopes it will be operational within four months of that.

Meanwhile, neighboring Cathedral City’s City Council has decided the town has reached a saturation point with dispensaries, enacting a ban on new ones south of Interstate 10—but cultivation is another story. In July, the city issued 18 cultivation and dispensary licenses to CP Logistics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Calgary-based Sunniva Holdings Corp. With existing operations in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, Sunniva hopes to cash in on the biggest weed market in the U.S. with its foray into the Golden State.

“We are entering the California market with plans for a remarkably efficient and large-scale facility—one that will benefit from California’s abundant natural sunlight to deliver low-cost, high-quality medical products at scale,” said Dr. Anthony Holler, CEO of Sunniva, in a news release. “The award of these licenses and additional acreage puts in place the essential elements for us to move forward with Sunrise Campus as we envision it.”

The company increased its Cathedral City land holdings to 20 acres with the recent purchase of 14 additional acres. The land will be home to a large-scale greenhouse operation producing medical cannabis.

The Cathedral City facility will be constructed in two phases. Phase 1—breaking ground in the next couple of months—is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2018. This first phase is projected to produce around 90 tons of flower product per year. The addition of Phase 2 in late 2018 is projected to add another 49 tons per year.

A conditional use permit (CUP) hearing for Phase 1 is set for Aug. 2. These hearings determine whether a permit is issued to let construction begin. Citizens of Cathedral City have 10 days to file an objection, and if an objection is filed, the decision is made by the City Council.


Dispensaries ARE Good for the Community

We in the Coachella Valley are aware of the financial rewards some local cities are enjoying from the cannabis biz. But what about the effects on neighborhoods and crime?

For years, we’ve heard NIMBY prohibitionists claim dispensaries cause an increase in crime in the surrounding neighborhoods (a claim that has been debunked repeatedly). But what about when dispensaries close—are they such crime deterrents that their absence is actually detrimental? A recent study published by the Harvard Business Review says yes.

Using data collected before and after 2010’s shuttering of more than 400 dispensaries in Los Angeles, authors Tom Y. Chang and Mireille Jacobson of the Harvard Business Center were able to determine the closing of dispensaries led to a marked increase in crime in the immediate area. They found the types of crimes to increase are those typically deterred by foot traffic and bystanders, like car theft and property crimes. In fact, the authors concluded: “Open dispensaries provide over $30,000 per year in social benefit in terms of larcenies prevented.”

Of course, these findings were welcomed by marijuana advocates.

“These conclusions are consistent with prior research indicating that dispensaries contribute to neighborhood safety by hiring doormen and taking other steps to deter local criminal activity,” said NORML deputy director Paul Armentano in an email. “Such well-regulated establishments can play a positive role in the improved safety and wellness of a community.”


Cannabis-Infused Coffee Pods!

In a blatant attempt to take all of my money, San Diego company Cannabiniers has introduced Brewbudz—cannabis-infused coffee, tea and cocoa pods for your Keurig coffee maker.

“What we are aspiring to create is the normalization of cannabis consumption in a way that integrates with consumers’ already established habits and lifestyles,” said Timothy Walters, president of Cannabiniers, in a news release. “Brewbudz is our way of providing consumers with a natural, safe and chemical-free way to consume cannabis’ natural compounds, combined with an everyday behavior—coffee/tea drinking, that is both socially acceptable and discreet.”

But what about all of that packaging? In keeping with its motto—“Good for you. Good for the Earth.”—the company has developed a 100 percent compostable brew pod. The rigid top ring of the pod is made from the skin of roasted coffee beans and other compostable matter, and the lid and mesh are made from fully compostable materials and inks.

For coffee, there’s West Coast Roast, made from “responsibly sourced” 100 percent Arabica beans in regular and decaf. French vanilla and hazelnut are on the way, according the company’s website. For tea-lovers, Cannabiniers offers artisan tea featuring the “most delicious tea leaves and high-quality cannabis to create exhilarating blends that delight the senses,” available in black, green and herbal varieties. Just in case weed-infused tea isn’t mellow enough for you, chamomile is coming soon.

They recommend the Decadent Dark Chocolate cocoa as a weed aperitif, but it sounds like the perfect end to a day of snowboarding, too.

Pods are available in THC contents of 10 mg, 25 mg and 50 mg, and are available in Indica or Sativa. The company claims there is virtually no cannabis smell or flavor in the prepared beverages.

For now, Brewbudz is only available in Nevada, but California and Colorado are on deck! Visit brewbudz.us for more information.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

No, Jefferson. Let it go …

Our evil elf of a U.S attorney general is whining about pot again, this time in a letter asking Congress not to renew the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment.

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which became law in December of 2014, prohibits the Department of Justice from spending any federal funds to interfere with state medical cannabis laws. It must be renewed each year—and Sessions is requesting it not be renewed this time around.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives,” Sessions wrote in the letter, first made public by Tom Angell of MassRoots.com.

This comes at a time when an overwhelming majority of Americans (including 65 percent of police officers!) are in favor of some form of legalization, and more and more states are starting to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

One of the law’s namesakes expressed annoyance with Sessions’ letter.

“Mr. Sessions stands athwart an overwhelming majority of Americans and even, sadly, against veterans and other suffering Americans who we now know conclusively are helped dramatically by medical marijuana.” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who represents parts of Orange County, in a statement to the Washington Post.

Opioids are at the center of the worst drug epidemic facing Americans today—while marijuana is decidedly not. However, to Sessions, there is virtually no difference between opioids and marijuana, considering he recently described pot as just “slightly less awful” than heroin. Of course, the American Journal of Public Health published a study in September 2016 citing evidence that opioid use is lower in states with legal medical marijuana, but what do they know with their “statistics?” Pesky facts …

The DOJ actually challenged the amendment under President Obama, but it was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This ruling leaves it up to Congress to decide whether to remove Rohrabacher-Farr from the yearly appropriations bill—but the amendment has received strong bipartisan support ever since it became law. Conventional wisdom dictates that Congress would be reluctant to go against the clear will of the people, but how often does conventional wisdom come into play in Washington, D.C., these days?

California is having none of this nonsense, and is making moves to become the first sanctuary state for cannabis. In anticipation of a legal showdown with Sessions’ DOJ, the State Assembly passed AB 1578 on June 1; the bill would prohibit state and local law enforcement from helping the feds enforce federal prohibitions against those adhering to California state law. The bill by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, passed in a close 41-33 vote.

The measure faces stiff opposition by law enforcement and Republicans, for reasons ranging from interference in federal and local interagency cooperation regarding other crimes, to claims that it violates federal law.

“The hubris of California Democrats believing they can flout federal law on immigration and drug policy is beyond words,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) during the floor debate.

Jones-Sawyer’s retort: “AB 1578 ensures that our limited local and state resources are not spent on federal marijuana enforcement against individuals and entities that are in compliance with our laws.”

Rep. Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), a co-author of the bill, said: “People who are compliant with California law and operate within the legal cannabis market should not have to fear that a state or local agency will participate in efforts to punish or incarcerate them for activity that the state and its voters have deemed legal,” according to a Los Angeles Times report.

The Tenth Amendment Center, a constitutional-law and states’ rights advocacy group, claims there is solid legal standing for the measure. “Provisions withdrawing state and local enforcement of federal law in AB 1578 rest on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce any federal act or program,” founder Michael Boldin said in a post on the group’s website.

Jones-Sawyer said the bill could be edited to make it clear that cooperation in moving against illegal operations according to state law could continue. A Newsweek report estimated that 1,400 dispensaries are operating illegally in Los Angeles alone, and Jones-Sawyer would like those businesses shuttered, while protecting those adhering to local and state law.

The bill faces an uncertain future as it moves to the State Senate.


MEANWHILE, HERE IN THE VALLEY…

The City Council of Cathedral City recently passed a moratorium on new dispensaries south of Interstate 10.

The city of 53,000 has 10 licensed dispensaries operating, with another opening soon—that’s around 4,800 residents per dispensary. By comparison, Palm Springs has six dispensaries servicing 44,552 residents (or 7,452 residents per dispensary). The move is designed to help ensure the continued success of existing dispensaries in what is a comparatively saturated market.

Cathedral City dispensaries may also see fewer customers in the future, as Palm Desert and Coachella are slowly moving toward allowing retail cannabis businesses.

The measure passed 3-2, with Greg Pettis and Shelley Kaplan opposing.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The California Department of Public Health has issued proposed rules for the cannabis industry in anticipation of the Proposition 64 provisions that will take effect next year.

Voters legalized the adult use of marijuana via Prop 64 last year.

The proposed rules require applicants who wish to grow, transport or sell marijuana for medical use to get a license from the state’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, and pass a background check. People who transport marijuana between farms and dispensaries would be prohibited from owning said marijuana, and must be at least 21.

The rules establish a track-and-trace system that would monitor cannabis products through the supply chain. Individual plants would be tracked from seeds and buds to processing facilities. Dispensaries would no longer be able to package products in-house or be allowed to give out free samples. Delivery service would be an option if abiding by strict rules—governing everything from volume to the types of vehicles used.

One proposed rule that will surely meet with opposition from the industry is a provision that edibles have no more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving, and no more than 100 milligrams of THC in the total package. There currently is no such limit, and some companies are specializing in ultra-potent edibles; consumers are eating them up. Many would argue that this per-serving limit is impractically small, especially for those with medical needs for higher doses. These complaints, however, will most likely lead to no changes in the rules. Colorado and Washington both limit edibles to 10 mg per serving and 100 mg per package.

Other proposed rules include:

• Packaging must not appeal to children.

• Cannabis may not be infused into alcohol, nicotine or caffeine products.

• Dispensary hours of operation will be limited to the hours between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

• 42 percent of electricity for indoor commercial cultivation must come from renewable sources.

• Concentrated products like extracts and tinctures could contain up to 1,000 milligrams per package.

• All cannabis business would need to be at least 600 feet away from schools.

• All products would be required to leave sales points in child-resistant containers.

• Cannabis farms would be limited to 4 acres.

• Licenses for veterans and cannabis businesses in good standing as of Jan. 1, 2016, would receive priority consideration.

Tuesday, June 13, is the last day for the public to submit written comments. More information can be found at cannabis.ca.gov.


California AG Ready to Fight for Cannabis in Jeff Sessions’ Drug War

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo to federal prosecutors calling on them to push for prosecution of the most-serious charges possible in drug cases—especially those with mandatory minimum sentences.

Vanita Gupta, the former head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, told Yahoo! News that the memo was a “resounding step backwards into the 1980s of failed policies in our criminal justice system that resulted in us having the highest incarceration rate of industrialized nations in the world. It’s a real throwback in a lot of ways, and very troubling.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder was unrestrained in his contempt for Sessions’ new directive. “The policy announced today is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime. It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety,” Holder said in a statement.

Sessions has repeatedly claimed that drug use—including cannabis—is behind a violent crime epidemic sweeping the nation. (For the record, crime rates nationwide remain dramatically lower than they were in the ’80s and ’90s.)

Congress has already limited Sessions’ ability to extend his renewed drug war to legal weed, and has denied federal funding of any efforts to prosecute cannabis businesses that are legal according to state laws, thanks to a rider to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017. Section 537 states: “None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used” with respect to states with legal medical weed “to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

However, President Trump has the industry and its proponents worried a bit by his signing statement attached to the bill. Among the points of disagreement highlighted by the president was the provision that prohibits the feds from interfering with state-legal medical-marijuana programs. While signing statements are not policy, some worry it could signal future changes in policy where federal enforcement is concerned. This budget bill will be in effect through Sept. 30.

In an interview with Politico California, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra indicated that California is unwilling to yield on its marijuana laws, and would not back down from a battle in the face of a federal crackdown.

“I would love to see Jeff Sessions come to California and tell us we’re not going to move forward on cannabis. Something tells me that it’s not gonna happen,” Becerra said. “I’ll probably be the 1 millionth person in line to fight Jeff Sessions on that.”

He continued: “Cannabis is last century’s argument. We’re beyond that.”

Published in Cannabis in the CV

In his keynote speech at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition on Sept. 8 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, longtime cannabis advocate Montel Williams announced his entry into the medical marijuana business with the launch of LenitivLabs.

“I’m proud to announce the formation of Lenitiv Scientific and the development of the LenitivLabs product line,” said Williams, according to a news release. “With the issue of full legalization dominating the conversation, it’s critical not to forget patients who have specific needs with respect to cannabis, including strains that might be less-profitable in the marketplace. The mission of Lenitiv Scientific is to ensure that seriously ill individuals—like myself—have access to the medicine they need.”

Williams, of course, is best known for hosting The Montel Williams Show for 17 years; he’s also an entrepreneur, wellness advocate and decorated former naval officer. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999.

In 2013, Williams talked about his medical marijuana use with addiction website TheFix.com: “For six months after I was diagnosed with MS in 1999, I was given every prescription under the sun to help relieve some of the pain I was suffering with—Oxycontin, Vicodin, you name it,” he said. “But none of it helped. A doctor suggested a lot of literature to me that discussed the benefits of cannabis on neuropathic pain.”

Not only did he start using medical cannabis himself; he became an outspoken advocate and has offered support to legalization initiatives in several states.

“I experience neuropathic pain 24 hours a day because of my MS,” Williams said at the conference in L.A. “My physicians recommended cannabis as part of my treatment 17 years ago, and I’ve used it ever since. Only someone suffering from a debilitating disease can understand cannabis’ therapeutic value.”

The company will launch a product line of cannabis products, and promises consistent, standardized dosage by utilizing the most-current manufacturing/extraction technology available. LenitivLabs will service all states where cannabis is legal for medicinal use, and will expand to other states as legalization spreads.

LenitivLabs has put together a heavy-hitting—and rather interesting—advisory board that includes retired Vice Admiral Edward M. Straw, former congressman and pharmaceutical lobbyist Wilbert Tauzin, and R. James Woolsey, a former CIA director and ambassador. You may recognize Woolsey’s name from recent headlines after he joined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Wait, what?

This sounds like a potentially scary team—but it is a bunch who would not be afraid to give the Drug Enforcement Administration a ring to ask them to pull their heads out of their collective asses and reschedule weed at last. The DEA certainly isn’t listening to you or me.

Make it happen, Montel.


The Hound Is Coming to Get You!

To date, there has been little to no scientific research to definitely determine at which levels THC impairs driving ability. Law enforcement also has no way to test for marijuana influence beyond blood or urine tests, which would only determine that cannabis had been used some time in the last few weeks. That has made charging someone with driving while stoned difficult.

That’s about to change. (“But Sean, I drive better when I’m stoned!” No. You don’t.)

Introduced by Oakland-based Hound Labs, The Hound was field-tested recently with help from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Drivers pulled over for erratic driving were asked to voluntarily submit to The Hound test for research purposes. The machine reportedly succeeded in detecting not only the presence of THC, but the actual levels of THC—accurately enough to gauge how recent use was. No drivers were charged, but those who had recently smoked were not allowed to drive immediately. One driver tested was arrested for drunk driving.

Dr. Mike Lynn, CEO and co-founder of Hound Labs, Inc., is also an emergency-room doctor and reserve deputy sheriff with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. “It is very rewarding, both professionally and personally, to identify the need for a product that will save countless lives, to develop the solution to an incredibly difficult scientific challenge, and then to create the product—the only marijuana breathalyzer that can measure THC in breath with results that match the best laboratory equipment,” said Lynn, according to a news release. “I feel very fortunate that I have been able to use my experience both as an active reserve deputy sheriff and as a practicing ER physician to create a device that affordably solves an escalating public health crisis.

“For the first time, communities across the country will have access to the science and technology required to tackle the growing costs that result from people driving under the influence of marijuana.”


Joy of Life Wellness Center Open for Business

There’s a new dispensary in town! Joy of Life Wellness Center began serving patients in early September. Founded by Crystal Fantasy owner Joy Brown Meredith, it is the sixth dispensary licensed by the Palm Springs City Council.

I had a chance to drop in on a recent Saturday afternoon. Joy of Life is located inside a modest-sized, clean, well-maintained building just off Indian Canyon Drive toward the north end of Palm Springs. There was one other patient waiting when I arrived, and two more shopping in the bud room. (Palm Springs requires a budtender for each patient.) I was greeted with a friendly welcome.

When my turn came, I got a chance to meet budtenders Sara (Joy’s daughter) and Justin. Justin gave me some great recommendations from their stock. The selection of edibles was a bit limited, but that’s to be expected with new shops. The flower, however, was primo. I picked up Khaleesi OG, Bubba’s Gift, Deep Sleep and some good old Hindu Kush, as well as a Bhang Bar for dessert. My first-time-visitor status also earned me a free gift (I took the grinder) and a free pre-rolled joint.

Joy of Life Wellness Center is located at 142 W. Oasis Road in Palm Springs.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The legalization of cannabis for medicinal and now recreational use is crashing across the country like a bong-water tsunami. That means herb is in the news lately—a lot.

Here in California, some of that news is not good.

Assembly Bill 243—part of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October—is causing many cities to clamp down on cannabis businesses. While the bill contains a lot of good, it has a problem: The MMRSA requires local governments to develop regulations for the cultivation and delivery of medical cannabis by March 1. Otherwise, the authority is relinquished to the state. Not wanting to give up that authority, dozens of cities around the state have been enacting all-out bans, denying their patients convenient access to prescribed medications.

This is unfortunate, especially since the provision was never meant to be included in the final legislation.

“It was never our intention to place such a short timeline on local lawmakers,” said Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood, one of the bill’s proponents, in a news release. “The current deadline gives jurisdictions just 65 more days to consult stakeholders, learn about the industry, and write good policy; that is not nearly enough time.”

Wood is now one of the sponsors of Assembly Bill 21, which is currently in committee but is expected to pass and be signed into law without issue. AB 21 strikes the March 1 deadline, allowing local jurisdictions to regulate and enact their own laws at their own pace. “We have widespread support for this fix, including bi-partisan support from both houses, stakeholders and the governor’s office. I am hoping that AB 21 will be on the governor’s desk before the end of the month, and local lawmakers will give this complicated issue the time it deserves,” said Wood.

Despite the impending fix, the League of California Cities is recommending mass hysteria. Because, you know, caution.

“In an abundance of caution, we have been advising our member cities to enact cultivation ordinances—in this case, a ban—to make sure they preserve their regulatory authority whether the cleanup bill goes through or not,” said Tim Cromartie, the legislative representative for the League of California Cities, to the Los Angeles Times. “A ban is the quickest and cleanest way.”

Great.

So how has that affected the Coachella Valley? While some of our valley cities have been working toward their own marijuana regulations diligently for years, others believed the hype and have reacted with fear and rejection.

Palm Springs, being one of the more progressive areas in the valley, has historically been at the forefront of the cannabis movement. The city recently approved a sixth dispensary permit, and council members have said they’d be open to increasing this number in the future as public need and opinion dictate. Recent City Council meetings have also included the discussion of permitting for commercial grows, edible production and extract production. The council members made it clear they want to be prepared to reap the financial rewards of legalization of recreational use statewide—which most people believe is inevitable, perhaps as soon as this year’s election.

Cathedral City is following the example set by Palm Springs, and has issued several permits in recent months. Indicative of the hurdles involved with this emerging industry, the first dispensary in Cathedral City opened its doors in October, more than a year after the council approved the permit allowing them to operate in the city.

If Palm Springs is the tortoise in this race—carefully planning next steps and moving along at an organic pace—cash-strapped Desert Hot Springs is surely the hare: DHS wants to be a mecca of marijuana production and cultivation. It is the first city in the state to approve massive industrial-grow operations, including a recently approved 380,000-square-foot facility that will generate an estimated $3.8 million in annual tax revenues for the city. Grows of this magnitude are expected to be a rarity in the wake of AB 243’s canopy limit of 10,000 square feet for most facilities.

While Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs are working in anticipation of recreational legalization and the revenue streams that will represent, Rancho Mirage has dug its heels in like a child being dragged to the dentist. However, the city’s resistance to the green rush predates the panic caused by AB 243. The city even has a program to reimburse cannabis patients $25 per month for transportation to buy their cannabis elsewhere. It bears noting that no one has taken them up on the offer since the program’s inception. It’s doubtful any cannabis businesses of any kind will be operating in Rancho Mirage anytime soon, regardless of any state legislation.

In January, Palm Desert looked like it would pass an all-out ban on cannabis cultivation and distribution. Then, after hearing from several residents at the Jan. 14 meeting, the council changed the language to allow delivery services to operate in the city. This is great news for Palm Desert cannabis patients who are unable to travel easily.

Indian Wells doubled down on its rejection of cannabis in January, adding delivery and cultivation to its existing ban on dispensaries in the city.

La Quinta has a similar ban in place, but formed an ad hoc committee in December to examine allowing delivery services to operate in the city.

Indio has had a ban on dispensaries in place since 2007, and recently expanded that ban to cultivation. Because, you know, Indio has a reputation to uphold. The City Council is, however, considering regulations for delivery services to operate there.

Coachella recently broke from its long-time ban on all marijuana businesses by approving cultivation in areas of the city that are zoned for auto-wrecking. The approval is seen as a fairly cynical way for the city to reap the tax benefits of the cash crop, and nothing more, because the ban on delivery and storefront dispensaries remains.

AB 243 was meant to stabilize the cannabis industry in California, yet it ended up severely handicapping the cannabis movement with its errant March 1 deadline. Hopefully cities will be as willing to enact meaningful, well-planned regulation once the threat of that deadline has been removed by AB 21.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

I began smoking marijuana in the 1960s, when my memory says it was cheaper, purer and more fun.

Of course, we know what pot does to one’s memory.

Pot-smokers tend to know other pot-smokers, so even when you move to a new area, you manage to find each other. When I returned to the Coachella Valley in 2007, after seven years away to attend law school in San Diego, I had a local friend who, likewise, had a friend. I sometimes cadged from a pal in Los Angeles. In spite of the difficulty of getting pot, I resisted even thinking about getting a “license.” Then I talked to someone who had one—and I realized I was being silly. (Besides, I don’t plan on ever running for public office again.)

This is not a rah-rah endorsement of smoking pot. It’s not natural for lungs, and it can impair driving. Like liquor or voting, it should be restricted by age. It can lead to harder drugs in those who have a propensity toward addiction—but such people will find what they’re looking for regardless, whether it’s via glue or aerosols.

While I can understand wanting to zone pot stores—much like “adult” bookstores and bars are not allowed near schools or churches—many people fear that dispensaries will bring criminal behavior, and they use that to justify taking a stand against pot outlets in their locale.

Let’s establish some reality here: Legalization reduces youth-crime rates, since simple possession is then considered a misdemeanor, similar in severity to a speeding ticket. Fears about a link between adult crime and cannabis use are overblown. A study done by the University of Texas at Dallas found that “legalization of medical marijuana is not an indicator of increased crime. It actually may be related to reductions in certain types of violent crime … namely homicide and assault."  If you know pot-smokers, you know this is true. Statistics also show that traffic deaths go down with legalization, as do with alcohol purchases. 

California was the first state to allow medical marijuana use in 1996. Currently, a total of 23 states, plus D.C. and Guam, allow legalized use of medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington passed ballot measures legalizing recreational use in 2012. Alaska and Oregon voters also approved recreational use in laws slated to become effective this year. A D.C. ballot initiative legalizing marijuana was overwhelmingly approved by voters, but is still subject to congressional review, since D.C. is run by Congress.

It may be true that almost anyone can justify a “medical” reason to use cannabis products—but how do you measure the relief experienced by those undergoing chemotherapy, or someone whose lowered anxiety level may prevent a stroke?

I began my journey into local cannabis culture by calling a local doctor, who was referred by a friend. He’s a formerly retired M.D. who wanted to get out of the house and needed the money. His routine is comprehensive; he documents everything you say in response to very specific questions about your health, and he makes sure that the state rules are followed to the letter. He is personable, supportive, nonjudgmental and professional.

After a 30-minute consultation, I received my officially stamped document that allows access to a dispensary—and proves to a policeman that I’m not criminally in possession, at least not by California rules. Cannabis is still listed federally under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug—considered “highly addictive and having no medical value.” 

By the way, when’s the last time a doctor spent 30 minutes with you?

As I was leaving the doc’s office, I asked if he knew where I could get local help for purchases. “Oh, sure,” he said. “There are business cards out on the counter.” I grabbed three and zeroed in on the one that delivers.

Having pot products delivered is way cool. When I called for my first delivery, I was asked to show my license, and then a display of about 20 cannabis varieties was unveiled, each labeled with a creative name: Purple Crack, Girl Scout Cookies, Blue Kush, Martian Green. (I have no idea what the names mean or who chooses them, but they are definitely inventive.) My delivery guy even brought me laced chocolate for Easter!

Once I decided to visit a dispensary in Palm Springs, I walked into a large waiting room, decently furnished, with three other waiting people. I walked up to the window and gave them my picture ID and my pot license. Those items were copied and returned to me, and I was asked to wait.

As I sat down, a man who was also waiting said, “You’re not by any chance the lady on the radio, are you?”

“Yes,” I said. “How did you know that?”

“I recognized your voice—I listen to your show.” What a place to be recognized as a local celebrity!

When my name was called, I was admitted through a locked door into a small anteroom, where I waited while a beefy guy locked the first door and then unlocked a second door, leading into a large room with a long counter behind which three other people were waiting on other customers.

The array of products available was astounding, including food items. Imagine—pot butter! I asked questions and got detailed answers about whether strains were indica, sativa or blends. Prices vary somewhat, but are not outrageous when compared to buying in the underground marketplace. The employees were courteous and helpful, and the atmosphere among the customers was cordial and friendly. “Oh, that one’s good!” said another customer, trying to be helpful. The other customers were far from seedy—quite the contrary. They were neatly dressed, of varying ages, and basically looked just like any of my neighbors.

If you oppose legalization, or resist the idea of medical marijuana, you are way behind the times. We’re no longer in the dark ages of Reefer Madness, the 1936 movie made to frighten people about the “evil weed,” in which drug-dealers lead innocent teenagers toward hopeless addiction, suicide, hallucinations and madness.

By comparison, the third-leading cause of death in the U.S is legal access to alcohol, responsible for over 75,000 deaths yearly. Alcohol destroys families, foments violence and costs society greatly in public health and safety.

I’ve never known anyone on pot who got violent. Did some of my friends get lazy? Some were pretty laid back anyway, but they were also lawyers, business executives and good parents. Pot made us laugh, nosh, groove and generally live in the moment. Pot also alleviates nausea, stimulates appetite and diminishes symptoms of anxiety that accompany many medical conditions. Of course we need restrictions and oversight, but marijuana is not something to fear.

The Coachella Valley has a thriving cannabis culture, including your law-abiding neighbors—like my 91-year old friend whose granddaughter gives her pot brownies to control cancer symptoms. The times, they are a-changin’. 

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Coachella Valley residents who use medical marijuana must currently travel to one of a small handful of dispensaries in Palm Springs—the only valley city which has allowed dispensaries to operate.

However, two other local cities will soon let dispensaries open their doors. Last year, both the Desert Hot Springs City Council and the city’s voters OK’d dispensaries, while Cathedral City’s City Council narrowly voted in favor of allowing them.

Desert Hot Springs will initially allow up to three permits to be issued for dispensaries, with the possibility of adding more after an evaluation. Currently, 19 applications have been submitted, but there is a list of three applications that have received the highest score.

Cathedral City will allow two permits to be issued; so far, the city has rejected four applications and approved one. City Manager Charlie McClendon explained the criteria the applicants must meet.

“The ordinance laid out some fairly strict guidelines that they had to meet to qualify in terms of what zoning district they could be in, how close they could be to a school, how close they could be to a residential neighborhood, how close they could be to each other, how close they could be to a park, and things like that,” McClendon said. “So, it’s a two-pronged process. (Applications) go before our planning commission to judge that, and the first step is a test: Is the application complete? Does it meet those spacing guidelines? Did they submit all the material? If the planning commission determines that, yes, the application is complete, then they can have an open public hearing for a conditional use permit on that application. If they determine that the application is not complete, then it’s rejected.”

McClendon explained that one applicant has been approved so far, a company called Green Cross Pharma. He said most of the other applicants have been rejected due to location issues.

“There’s a provision in the ordinance that a dispensary cannot be 200 feet from Highway 111/East Palm Canyon Road, and one was rejected because it was less than that distance from the road,” he said.

Some people worry that dispensaries will attract crime to the areas where they’re located, but according to studies by RAND Corporation and California NORML, dispensaries do not raise or lower crime rates. McClendon said these studies have been taken into consideration.

“It remains to be seen as to whether or not it makes a difference here,” he said. “You can read competing evidence on that from other jurisdictions, but we have no direct experience with that ourselves.”

As for revenue, McClendon said the tax on medical marijuana that voters in Cathedral City approved will generate some money for city coffers.

“That’s a question that went to the voters, and they authorized a tax on the proceeds of the marijuana sales of up to 15 percent. It remains to be seen how much that actually generates, because we have no history yet. Based on the experience of Palm Springs, we believe there will be some revenue.”

Nicholas Longo, a licensed grower who used to live in Desert Hot Springs and who provides marijuana to dispensaries, was elated when the cities took steps to allow new dispensaries to open.

“I started growing about five years ago,” said Longo, who began using marijuana to help him with epilepsy. “At first, it was for the purpose of having the stuff on me at all times, but then it changed more into helping people than anything. I sell to the dispensaries—but what I do is make clones. I pretty much concentrate my focus on creating clones, so genetics is my thing. … You need to make sure you have good genetics.”

Longo grows about 25 plants per week that he can turn into sellable product for the dispensaries. “Every week, you put in about 25, and the ninth or 10th week, you’re harvesting.”

On Jan. 20, in Desert Hot Springs, Jason Elsasser opened up a center on Pierson Boulevard as part of his Medical Marijuana Resource Group, which based in Yucca Valley. It offers consultations and recommendations for medical marijuana cards. He said that patients don’t necessarily have safe access to medical marijuana.

“In 2013, the California Supreme Court ruled that county municipalities can zone out dispensaries,” Elsasser said. “In essence, a town can say, ‘We don’t want it!’ They can impose codes and zoning restrictions that won’t allow it. … It’s kind of like the stuff they do to strip clubs, massage parlors or tattoo parlors.”

After the market collapsed and destroyed his real estate business, Elsasser went into the medical-marijuana industry.

“I’m the one who created the situation in Yucca Valley,” he said. “In Yucca Valley, they voted in 2013 to shut down the only dispensary that was operating in town. It was left to operate kind of through a loophole. They had approved a legal dispensary back in 2008, and then some people opened a ballet studio next to it, and all of a sudden, there was a bunch of negative press about it. They pushed it to the far outskirts of town and implemented a moratorium on medical marijuana. The City Council (then) voted … to shut down the only dispensary. I said, ‘Enough is enough,’ and since I had a real estate background, I started the Yucca Valley Medical Marijuana Resource Group. I wanted to use it as a springboard to educate the town. I hired an attorney to write an ordinance and to start a voter referendum.”

Elsasser said that referendum should appear before Yucca Valley voters sometime in 2015. “We will win. I’m very confident because we have the support of the community, and we will win based on that.”

Elsasser said he believes medical-marijuana dispensaries will have a positive effect on Desert Hot Springs.

“We want to help the community,” he said. “These shops that are opening can do a lot of good for the community, and my business is just one of the businesses that are a product of these dispensaries opening. I just got my business license for my evaluation center, and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the three (coming) dispensaries. It’s good for the economy; it’s improving the area; and we’re excited about being down here in Desert Hot Springs.”

Below: Jason Elsasser opened a medical-marijuana evaluation center in Desert Hot Springs in January. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the three (coming) dispensaries,” he said. PHOTO BY BRIAN BLUESKYE

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