CVIndependent

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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The public-opinion news just keeps getting better for the legalization movement.

A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed that 57 percent of Americans favor the legalization of the use of marijuana, while only 37 percent still think it should be illegal. This is fairly amazing, considering that a mere 10 years ago, those numbers were pretty much reversed, with 32 percent in favor of legalization, and 60 percent opposed.

Weed, you’ve come a long way, baby!

Not surprisingly, the youth vote is where the strongest support for legalization is. A whopping 76 percent of millennials (ages 18-35 in 2016) are in favor. That’s up from 34 percent just a decade ago. Baby Boomers and GenXers are showing increasing support as well: Boomers are 56 percent in favor of legalization, up from just 17 percent in 1990, while Generation X sits at 57 percent in favor, up from 21 percent in 1990.

How does this break down across party lines? Predictably: 66 percent of Democrats are in favor of legalization, with just 30 percent opposed, while most Republicans (55 percent) oppose legalization.

Here in California, the numbers tell a similar tale. A recent poll showed that 58 percent of Golden State voters favor Proposition 64, which, if approved in November, would legalize marijuana for some recreational use. The poll (conducted by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times) also showed that support for legalization was strong across “most lines of age, race, income and gender,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

This shift in public opinion all but guarantees passage of Prop 64, which is backed by former Facebook president Sean Parker and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, despite blowback from pro-marijuana skeptics who think the law doesn’t do enough to protect smaller growers and the rights of medical patients.

Cannabis-industry trade groups like the California Growers Association are deeply divided on the issue. Only 31 percent of the 750 member growers of the CGA are in favor of the bill, while 31 percent are opposed, and 38 percent are undecided. The resistance stems from potentially costly environmental regulations (said to cost around $20,000 to $100,000 per farm), and a lack of long-term protections from an industry takeover by out-of-state interests.

Allowing Big Agriculture into the game is the biggest concern of growers. Some of these growers have been waiting decades for legalization, and now they fear being cut out of the industry they helped create. Prop 64 gives growers five years to establish market dominance in the state before corporate mega-grows can be approved, but many in the industry say this is not enough time, will take industry accessibility away from smaller operations, and will result in a lower-quality product.

The possibility of a lower-quality product is one of the many arguments coming from the medical-marijuana camp. One such voice of dissent is Dennis Peron, a co-author of Proposition 215, which opened the door for medical marijuana in the state back in 1996. He believes cannabis patients will be victimized by law enforcement and the tax code as they are lumped in with recreational users.

“I want the voters to be aware of the situation at hand,” Peron told The Cannabist. “Prop 64 is not legalization. If it were legalizing, that would imply that marijuana is illegal, and it’s not. This law would mean the displacement of cannabis farms in Humboldt. It essentially empowers profit instead of people.”

While these concerns are indeed valid, Prop 64 will most likely become law in our fair state. Even if Prop 64 fails, not much would change; most of the regulations it puts into effect were passed in last year’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which is now law.

Only time will determine how things shake out. In a strange little twist, the Drug Enforcement Administration may actually help smaller California growers stay in business by refusing to reclassify marijuana from Schedule 1: Until the federal prohibition is lifted, large investors will want to place their money where it can be federally insured, like Canada.


‘High Times’ Launches Marijuana-Themed Clothing Line

Back in 1974, a group of pothead pranksters headed by a publisher named Thomas King Forcade thought a one-off spoof of Playboy Magazine that featured buds instead of babes would be a pretty funny thing to do. That first issue sold more than anyone expected, and the public demanded more.

High Times magazine was born. Since then, the magazine has become the voice of the industry, movement and subculture that is marijuana.

The roller-coaster ride to legalization is finally coming to fruition, and weed subculture has been thrust into the limelight. Stoners across the land are more and more open about their love of cannabis, and cannabis culture is booming. Therefore, High Times has introduced a line of clothing that pays tribute to these connoisseurs, patients, activists and advocates—as well as to their maverick founder.

"The fashion trend in general is about retro and vintage. … You can see it at any show you go to. At the same time, what you’re seeing is this recognition of the legalization of cannabis," says Larry Linietsky, chief operating officer of High Times. "It's a way to support the movement by wearing the clothing. We think it's well-timed. (It’s) vintage, counterculture and authentic."

With the line’s launch, “High Times recognizes the need to celebrate these street soldiers worldwide by giving them banners to fly.” This would be pretty haughty talk for anyone other than High Times … but would you question Rolling Stone magazine’s place in rock ’n’ roll history? Playboy’s place in pinup culture? No, you would not.

The line is available now at shop.hightimes.com.

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

As the GOP geared up for its national convention in Cleveland, Republican delegates decided what would be included in the official party platform—and amid wildly inaccurate and unproven claims, cannabis reform was rejected.

Some of the anti-cannabis arguments were some real gems, including claims that mass murderers are all pot-smokers, and that there are links between marijuana and current heroin- and opioids-addiction epidemics. Seriously.

In fairness to the GOP, some delegates fought to get medical marijuana endorsed by the Republicans. “It’s not like we’re talking about Cheech and Chong here, folks. We’re talking about allowing people with debilitating conditions to ease their suffering,” Maryland delegate Ben Marchi said, according to HuffingtonPost.com. Alas, arguments like those given by Marchi weren’t enough to extricate the collective GOP delegate heads from their sandy hiding places: The measure was defeated on the second vote.

Then there’s Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee. In keeping with the GOP’s complete disregard for the will and welfare of the people, Pence was tapped to join Donald Trump on what will hopefully be a disastrous presidential ticket for the GOP.

The nut, in a nutshell:

• Indiana is the home of some of the harshest marijuana laws in the United States. Possession of even a small amount of cannabis is still punishable by 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine under the Pence administration.

• A proponent of the disastrous and failed War on Drugs, Pence still clings to the repeatedly disproven theory that cannabis is a gateway drug. He referred to it as such in a 2012 gubernatorial debate, and went on to say: “I would not support the decriminalization of marijuana. I’ve seen too many people become involved with marijuana and get sidetracked. We need to get more serious about confronting the scourge of drugs.”

• In 2013, Indiana House Bill 1006 would have revised Indiana’s criminal code—including a reduction in punishment for marijuana charges. However, Pence refused to sign the bill until the clause was dropped, and cannabis was reclassified up to a Class B misdemeanor. This was in direct opposition to the will of Indiana voters: Just a few months before HB 1006’s passage, a Howey/DePauw poll asked the state’s voters: “Currently it is a misdemeanor crime in Indiana to possess a small amount of marijuana. The legislature may consider making it an infraction rather than a crime to possess a small amount of marijuana. Do you favor or oppose making possession of a small amount of marijuana an infraction rather than a crime?” Poll respondents favored decriminalization by a margin of 54 percent to 37 percent.

So much for democracy.

Trump himself has been all over the place on this issue, saying in 1990 that recreational use should be legalized, and that the tax revenue should be used for drug education. Since his run for president kicked off, he’s moved a bit to the right, saying in October of last year to the Washington Post: “Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen—right? Don’t we agree? ... And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.” This seems like a pretty reasonable position to most Americans, including many Republicans.

What influence Pence will have on The Donald’s platform remains to be seen—but you can bet it won’t be favorable to the plant. If the GOP slate is elected, the results could be disastrous for the legalization movement.


On the Bright Side

Colorado is set to reach $1 billion in cannabis sales in 2016. This is not only great news for the cannabis industry; it’s great news for the state’s coffers. In addition to the 2.9 percent sales tax in the state, Colorado collects an additional 10 percent sales tax on cannabis and a 15 percent excise tax that is designated for school construction.

The population of Colorado is a little more than 5.4 million, and the state is doing a billion a year in cannabis sales. Try to imagine what those figures will be in California when recreational use becomes legal. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 15.09 percent of Colorado residents use cannabis. That’s around 814,860 tokers. Compare that to the 12.88 percent of California’s 39,144,818 residents who light up—a total of 5,041,852 Golden State smokers. There are 1,623 dispensaries registered with the California Board of Equalization. In 2014, California medical-marijuana dispensaries reported $570 million in taxable income. That meant $49.5 million in taxes paid to the state, and recreational use is still to come.

Any way you pose it, California has a huge financial boon coming with legalization.


A Dose of Irony From Coalinga

The Claremont Custody Center in the Central California city of Coalinga had a capacity of more than 500 state inmates until it was shuttered by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 2011, and has been sitting unused since.

Now Ocean Grown Extracts has struck a deal with the city to purchase the former prison for $4.1 million. (Timely, since the city is $3.8 million in debt.) The plan is to convert the former prison into a marijuana-extracts production center.

“It’s like the Grateful Dead said: ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’” Coalinga Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough said to The Fresno Bee after he and council members approved the plan in a 4-1 vote. “We listened to the citizens and created a package that was reflective of our population.”

The re-purposed building will be a natural fit for a business that requires strict security and 24-hour surveillance. The new facility is expected to bring 100 new jobs to the town.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

While Desert Pot Springs is garnering national attention with its charge into the cannabis industry, the other end of the valley is starting to steal a little of that green spotlight: Irvine-based Cultivation Technologies has plans to open an 88,000-square-foot cannabis-production compound in Coachella.

“We saw an opportunity in the city of Coachella—an agricultural community desperately in need of economic development,” said Justin Beck, the president of Cultivation Technologies, to the OC Weekly. “After much discussion, the city said they wanted to participate, but essentially didn’t know where to start. So we helped them create an ordinance that fully aligns with (California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, three bills which became law last year) in advance of its final implementation. We now have six acres of real estate in Coachella that we’re dedicating to the legal cultivation of marijuana for our Coachella-branded cannabis.”

Yes, Cultivation Technologies is naming its product after the city where it will be produced—a city which also shares its name with that really big music festival.

The Coachella-branded operation will be unique in the fact that it will include every part of the production process, including cultivation, manufacturing, on-site lab testing and distribution. The company also plans to work with other local growers to produce extracts.

“We will also act as a third-party service provider of extracts from local producers of cannabis. We’ll also then test, distribute and transport it from our site,” said Beck.

Richard Probst, the chief operating officer of Cultivation Technologies, boasted in a news release that the Coachella operation will be unparalleled.

"Our first six acres could rank among the most state-of-the-art cannabis facilities in the world,” he said. “With our proprietary LED technology and vertical grow systems, we believe our brand will resonate with patients who want the highest quality medicine available in California."

The city of Coachella’s cannabis green zone is the area east of Dillon Road along Avenue 48, an area that is also the city’s auto-wreckage zone.

While Desert Hot Springs is rising to fame for allowing large-scale cultivation, Coachella has gone much further by allowing not only cultivation, but also permitting extract and edible manufacturing and distribution.

The six-acre facility is scheduled to open in November of this year.


Backers of Bill Proposing a Steep Tax on Cannabis Show a Little Mercy

Introduced by Marin state Sen. Mike McGuire, Senate Bill 987 would have tacked an astronomical 15 percent “user fee” onto all retail cannabis purchases in California. (McGuire also introduced SB 643, one of last year’s three aforementioned regulatory bills that made up the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.)

Americans for Safe Access has voiced strong opposition to the bill, arguing that the bill unfairly targets cannabis patients. “We do not assess ‘user fees’ on insulin, heart medications or chemotherapy,” read a recent newsletter sent by the group.

“Imposing additional tax will be bad for public safety,” said Don Duncan, ASA’s California director. “Inflating the cost of legal medical cannabis will force some patients to buy less-expensive cannabis from the unregulated illicit market—where there are no safety standards or oversight. That is the opposite of what regulations are supposed to accomplish.”

In response to pressure from the ASA and other patient advocates, lawmakers have now amended the bill, dropping the rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, and adding an exemption for patients with a state medical cannabis ID card who can prove their income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

These changes will indeed reduce the impact on lower-income patients, but the fee will still take unjust advantage of many patients. The state of California mandates a $66 fee for the medical cannabis ID card, but counties are free to add to this fee at will. Riverside County charges a $153 application fee for the card.

The bill has passed the Senate and is scheduled for consideration by the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee on Monday, June 20. Patient-advocate groups are asking cannabis patients and members of the public contact the committee in opposition of the fee.

Committee staff requests that letters regarding the bill be faxed (!) to 916-319-2198.


Where Is It Legal to Smoke in California?

I overheard a conversation between two people in a bar the other night about how great it is that cannabis is finally becoming legal and more socially accepted. But they also touched on a subject on which I was not clear on myself: Where, exactly, am I allowed to smoke my medication in California?

It seems people smoke everywhere these days, but what’s legal? Surely these bar patrons and I couldn’t be the only tokers in Cali wondering about this. Therefore, I did some research.

As with any law, it’s more about what you can’t do. According to SB420, Section 11362.79., medical cannabis users can light up anywhere but these places:

  • Any place where smoking is prohibited by law.
  • In or within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a school, recreation center, or youth center, unless the medical use occurs within a residence.
  • On a school bus.
  • While in a motor vehicle that is being operated.
  • While operating a boat.

The bill also states: “Except as authorized by law, every person who possesses not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana is guilty of an infraction punishable by a fine not more than $100.”

I haven’t smoked on a school bus since high school anyway. I can feel my prohibition-era paranoia easing already.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The Internet and social media have, in many ways, broadened communication and given us all other venues for self-expression—but the stigma still attached to cannabis can hamper a marijuana enthusiast’s online activity.

Case in point: Facebook has long had a ban on cannabis advertising—and as of Feb. 6, began shutting down dispensary pages.

Pot-smokers have often thought of themselves as their own society, so why shouldn’t we have our own social media? Here are a few apps that have answered that question with: “We agree! Here you go!”

Weedmaps

www.weedwaps.com; IOS, Android

Weedmaps got into the cannabis social-media game early, and has been the go-to solution for smokers to find cannabis, and for dispensaries to promote their wares. Users can also post reviews of dispensaries. Basically, it’s like Yelp for cannabis.

The app/website lists thousands of dispensaries across the country. The app and the website both offer geolocation services to tell you the nearest place to pick up some smoke, along with reviews and menus of dispensaries’ current offerings and deals. Launched in 2008, the site now boasts more than 2 million visitors per month.

Leafly

www.leafly.com; IOS, Android

Weedmaps spent many years alone at the top of the 420-app heap, but Leafly is now giving Weedmaps some competition. Leafly has the same dispensary-locating functionality, but focuses much more on specific strains of cannabis: The site includes many strain reviews, and the database includes thousands of strains, searchable by category, flavor, effects, a patient’s symptoms and known conditions. Users can read and post reviews, and find out if a strain is available nearby.

Another very cool feature is the State of the Leaf interactive map: Click on any state, and get the current status of that state’s cannabis laws. Leafly also includes a section of cannabis-related news and articles on topics like current legislation, health and lifestyle.

Duby

www.duby.co; IOS, Android

With Facebook prohibiting more and more cannabis content, there has been a definite gap in social-media options for cannabis enthusiasts. How many times have you tried a really outstanding strain, and just wanted to shout it out to the world (i.e., you know, post it on Facebook)? Enter Duby. Posts are referred to as “dubys.” Like a duby? Pass it by swiping right! Don’t like it? Swipe left to “put it out.” Cute.

Duby is the most-popular online community for potheads, offering all the features of FB without the judgment and prying eyes of those who have not seen the light.

MassRoots

www.massroots.com; IOS, Android

If Duby is the Facebook of cannabis culture, MassRoots is its Instagram. The interface is exactly what you’d expect from something known as the Instagram of weed—filled with pictures of cannabis, and your boss isn’t your “bud.” (That’s MassRoots’ term for connections.)

The result of a marijuana-infused brainstorm between the two founders in 2013, MassRoots has enjoyed amazing growth. The community now boasts more than 775,000 users—more than double the membership six months ago. Founders expect to reach 1 million by 4/20.

Said MassRoots CEO Isaac Dietrich in a news release: “The weeks leading up to 4/20 are the cannabis industry’s holiday season—a period where millions of cannabis enthusiasts make purchases, buy tickets, and make plans for marijuana’s official holiday. Historically, during the weeks leading up to 4/20, we have experienced significantly higher growth and visibility.”

MassRoots will only benefit from Facebook’s move to further restrict marijuana-related pages, and is becoming a valuable advertising alternative to Facebook for weed businesses. MassRoots also made history as the first marijuana-tech company to go public, in April 2015. According to the MassRoots website, the business hopes to uplist to NASDAQ or the NYSE before the end of 2016.

I’m buying stock tomorrow!

The next time you’re looking for a dispensary, or you just want to show off a favorite strain, your garden or a new bubbler—without your great aunt putting on her Judgy McJudge hat—post away! There are entire online societies just for our tribe!


On a Sad Note

The Coachella Valley cannabis community lost a treasured member on Feb. 15 when Steven Cooley—cannabis evangelist, budtender extraordinaire and manager of PSA Organica in Palm Springs—passed away suddenly while dining with friends.

Steven radiated positive energy like a bright light, and has helped countless people find the correct strain or medication for what ails them. A long-time HIV patient and stroke survivor, Steven attributed his continued existence on this plane to his use of cannabis in its many forms.

Steven was a true believer, a great friend and a wonderful human being. You will be truly and sorely missed, my friend.

In lieu of flowers or cards, please make a donation in Steven’s name to the Desert AIDS Project.

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

Published in Local Issues

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.

Published in Local Issues

While other Coachella Valley cities tend to get more attention, it’s the city of Indio that—by a fairly wide margin—has the largest population.

With more than 80,000 residents, it’s one of California’s fastest-growing cities; it’s also the home of the Coachella and Stagecoach music bonanzas. In fact, city leaders recently gave Indio the tagline “The City of Festivals.”

However, a drive down once-bustling Fargo Street in the downtown/old town part of Indio reveals that all is not well: Most of that population growth has been in the suburbs, and the city’s core features numerous vacant, boarded-up buildings. Meanwhile, the city government’s reputation is still recovering following the 2010 retirement of Indio City Manager Glenn Southard following a series of financial controversies. (Editor's Note: Elaine Holmes wants to make it clear that she was a supporter of Southard and his "positive approach to Indio.")

But there are signs of progress in downtown Indio, too. For starters, the College of the Desert’s new East Valley Center is rising on Oasis Street, and is slated to open in a year or so. And back down on Fargo Street, the quirky Indio Performing Arts Center is drawing people to downtown for a variety of entertainment.

One of the people who is leading the charge to improve both Indio itself and its reputation is Elaine Holmes. She and her husband, Doug, gave up jobs in corporate America to move from San Clemente to Indio in 2004, when they bought PJ’s Desert Trophies and Gifts, located in downtown Indio on Miles Avenue. During her nine years in Indio, she’s gotten increasingly involved in the city leadership. She was on the board of directors of the Indio Chamber of Commerce, and 2 1/2 years ago, she was elected to the five-member Indio City Council. This year, she’s serving as the city’s mayor (a title that rotates among members on an annual basis).

The Independent recently sat down with Holmes at PJ’s Desert Trophies and Gifts to talk about the city of Indio, her involvement, the city’s future—and even medical marijuana.

So, why Indio?

The people. The people in this community are wonderful. They are very giving; they’re very generous with their own selves and their own time. They are people who are eager to see other people successful. … You just can’t help but get involved with that, and we did, and we really got engaged.

Was there something special—something different—that you noticed about Indio when you moved here that, for example, you hadn’t seen in San Clemente?

It’s a whole different way of life, and, certainly, Indio is a smaller community. It’s a tightly knit, more-close-knit community. When were in San Clemente, because we both worked in corporate America, we didn’t have time to get involved with the community, so when we moved here, we became more engaged.

What made you decide to jump into political life? Even in a relatively small town, politics is politics …

I am a businessperson—really, a small-business-person now—and I felt that I needed to be an advocate for other small-business folks in the city of Indio. That really was the first launch. Secondarily, we are involved with this old town, or downtown, and became a part of the revitalization. I saw the potential; there’s so much potential in Indio, up by the freeway, but also in this old town area, and I really wanted to be involved and be a part of it.

The first time I drove through here (downtown/old town Indio), I went: “Whoa. This looks rough,” especially the part that IPAC is on (Fargo Street). Here (Miles Avenue), it looks nicer, and you’ve got the big (College of the Desert east) campus going in just a few streets down, which is great, but, frankly, there’s a long way to go. Tell me what steps you want the city to take to get it so downtown Indio is vital again.

It’s been a work in process for several years. We began the revitalization process before the downturn in the economy, on Miles Avenue here, predominantly. … Here on Miles Avenue, we redid all of the electrical, the underground (work), the sewers, the water. We tore up the streets and created a walkable area, a well-lit area … because before you can entice business in, you have to have water; you have to have sewer. If a restaurant comes in, you have to have the ability to put in, say, a grease trap. So we put in all of the infrastructure, all of the not-pretty things, first, so we could then work on the rest of it. College of the Desert is something that’s been in the works for several years, and we’re seeing it come out of the ground.

The great thing about Indio, and about this downtown: It used to be that they called it the hub of the valley. This downtown area used to be absolutely thriving with shops and visitors and all of that stuff, and then, as things changed, and the world changed, it continued to deteriorate. … People have a perception that the area’s rough. There’s not an issue with (violent) crime. There’s theft; there are theft issues, sure, but there are theft issues everywhere, particularly now with the downturn in the economy. … We work day and night here; we always have at this store. That’s what small businesses do. We saw the fact that this was a safe place; it had just fallen into disrepair, and I when (my husband) Doug and I look at something that’s in disrepair, we think: “Ah ha! Potential. We can fix it up.”

Concrete steps: How is downtown/old town Indio going to become a place that’s vital again?

It starts with College of the Desert and the fact that there will be 3,000 students at peak enrollment in the downtown area. You need people here, day and night, in order to make an area successful, because that’s what will drive retail and restaurants and the housing component. … (On May 15), the council approved moving forward with mixed use, so there will be restaurants and retail on the bottom, and living (spaces) on top.

Where?

Right across the street from the College of the Desert, there’s an empty lot. … The new detention center’s coming up; the new county administration center is also coming up, so in the next three years, there will probably be an additional 5,000 people in the downtown area. … Both (the detention center and the county administration building already) exist on a smaller scale; both are going to be torn down and rebuilt on a much larger scale. … There will be a captive audience here.

If it were up to you, would downtown Indio become like El Paseo or downtown Palm Springs is, in the sense that they are draws for tourists and people from elsewhere in the valley alike? Or are you content with Indio being a hub mainly for people who live in the east valley?

The vision for downtown/old town Indio is that it’ll be a combination of both. There will be specialty retail and restaurants. … When you think of the number of people who come into the desert, from Canada and tourists, it will be a draw for them. As it stands now, there are (already) some eclectic and unique stores. But also, with the college and the people who live here, there will be services, so people from the east end of the valley will come here, because there is something specific here that they need. So it will satisfy both as it evolves.

There’s going to be a law school here. Ultimately, my vision is: We have the (Indio) Performing Arts Center; we have the CV Art Center. … The (Coachella Valley History) Museum is just a block away. So, if you will, it’s arts, culture and entertainment, and you’ve got that educational base. So you have people moving here, and you’ll have things to do, places to go and places to eat. That’s ultimately where I want it to be.

How does the state dissolving all of the redevelopment districts affect Indio? Did it hurt the efforts badly?

It did. It threw us a curveball, there’s no doubt about it, because the city amassed quite a bit of this property several years ago, so we could bundle or package it to developers, and they could have a large area. When the state took that over, it all came to a screeching halt. There are challenges with it. Right now, we’re trying to deal with the state of California in terms of leasing some of the building space, and looking at disposition agreements in terms of how we go about selling (the property) to specific organizations or developers for future development. It slowed things down in terms of the forward momentum.

Let’s get a past downtown for a bit and talk about the big festivals. First of all, does it annoy you that everyone calls (Goldenvoice’s biggest festival) Coachella, when it actually takes place in Indio?

You know what? It’s all part of the vibe. It would be great to have Indio in the name, but … I think most people know that the festivals are in Indio.

There was a move last year by a fellow City Council member (Ascencion “Sam” Torres) to add a large tax to Coachella tickets. That got shot down, and you were opposed to it. Since then, Goldenvoice has signed a new agreement to stay in Indio (through at least 2030, and to possibly add two more festival weeks, perhaps in the fall). What are your goals, from the city’s standpoint, in terms of the festivals—bringing people here, what Goldenvoice does, etc.?

First of all, Goldenvoice does an enormous amount with the city, particularly with the kids. I think people see the concerts, and that’s what they associate with Goldenvoice, but what we see of Goldenvoice are people who really spend a lot of time and money focused on the community. We had the (remote area medical) health thing at the fairgrounds just before the concerts. They play soccer with the kids; they support the teen center, the Boys and Girls Club, so they’re already engaged in the community, and we want them to continue with that engagement, and to an extent, become even more engaged.

People come from all over the world; that is so neat, and I want, from a business perspective, for all the businesses in the community to reap the benefits of those tourists who are in town. … I also want the world to see the city, and some people are going to move here, and to have people from different cultures, and different parts of the country and world, to move here, to me, adds more to the eclectic flavor of the city that Indio is.

How do you get the word out to the festival-goers that, “Hey, you should actually stop and look at what’s going on in Indio?”

At (the May 15) council meeting, we put together an ad-hoc committee—I did as the mayor—to look at how we can engage the tourists and the people who come here for the concerts to let them know about all the restaurants and great places to go in the city. So we’re going to be pulling together a committee, myself and Mayor Pro-Tem (Michael) Wilson, with some of the local businesses, to address that very issue, and to see how we can be creative to drive people to our businesses.

Would you like to see more businesses come in that could benefit from the festivals? From what I understand, Indio's first new hotel in decades, a Holiday Inn Express, is soon opening.

Absolutely. … It’s “The City of Festivals.” Let’s look at more festivals. Let’s look at something that the city does every month that draws people and tourists into our city that therefore drives retail, and drives hotels and motels. … The more people we have here on a consistent basis, the more of a need we have for the hotels, the restaurants and the retail, because they’ll be able to sustain themselves.

I want to specifically ask you about IPAC. It’s such an eclectic, work-in-progress venue, and they do some pretty cool stuff there; in what direction would you like to see IPAC move?

… There are three components: community theater; a learning environment, particularly for the kids, because music and the arts just aren’t in schools any more; and a place to hold concerts. There are so many local bands here; let’s have a venue for them to play and perform.

Regarding medical marijuana: Right now, Palm Springs is the only city in the valley that allows dispensaries, and a lot of medical-marijuana dispensaries and collectives are closing up shop (after the California Supreme Court ruled that local governments could prohibit them). If it were up to you, where would Indio fall in terms of allowing dispensaries or other medical-marijuana businesses?

It’s come before the council once, I think, a couple of years ago. I think all of us would look at what a medical-marijuana clinic would bring to the city. We’d look at it on a case-by-case basis and decide if that was something that would be a benefit to the city and to the residents of the city. What decision would be, I don’t know. I know that the council is pretty open-minded or is very good at taking each item that comes to us on a case-by-case basis and asking the questions … to determine if it’s something we want in our city, whether it’s medical marijuana or a business.

The story that we did for our first print-version cover story was on growth. We got some numbers from the Southern California Association of Governments that showed Indio, Coachella and especially the nearby unincorporated areas were going to see the bulk of the growth in the valley between now and 2035. With that growth comes challenges: Indio’s going to have to deal with infrastructure, new roadways, and so on. What kind of a role is the Indio City Council taking for Indio to prepare to be a city of more than 110,000 people by 2035?

We’re updating our general plan, first of all. We always look at infrastructure improvements, and we do infrastructure improvements every year, whether it’s to our roads, or whether (it involves water)—we have the Indio Water Authority, our own water agency—and we are constantly upgrading that in terms of water storage and our ability to deliver water to our residents and businesses. (Growth is) something that’s forefront in our minds all of the time. Our city has grown, for the last 15 years or so, and continues to grow, so we have to be ready for that, and we’re constantly looking at: Where do we need to make changes? Where do we need to upgrade? That’s always top of mind. …

The east end of the valley has the highest number of youth here, so the need for services and the environment for these young people to be entertained or to eat or to hang out is critical. (We need) parks. My dream would be an aquatic center—something that was envisioned several years ago, and the economy kind of took that away from us. … That’s the future … the kids. That ties in to education and the whole economic engine, to have the jobs here for these kids to go to.

One of the things I really miss in terms of living in the Coachella Valley is a full-fledged four-year university here …

It’s coming.

It’s coming? Tell me about it.

I want to defer to Jan Harnik, the mayor of Palm Desert, but what drives that is a student population to go to these schools, and therefore, when they come out of school, the ability to find jobs and careers. … As the population grows … it’s a cycle. That’s how it works. As the desert is growing, so is the need for a university.

This is your first foray into elected office. Are you content to stay on the Indio City Council …

Absolutely.

… Or might you have bigger plans down the line?

No. I am all about being involved with the city. The reason I got on the City Council, as I said, is to be an advocate for small business. I like the city; I like being an advocate; I like being a part of the growth. And that’s the beginning, the middle and the end of my political career.

Published in Local Issues

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