PALM SPRINGS — While city leaders are still hesitant, Palm Springs is getting closer to having a fourth medical marijuana dispensary.
The Palm Springs City Council on Wednesday voted 3-1-1, with Councilman Chris Mills opposing and Councilman Rick Hutcheson abstaining, to amend the medical cannabis ordinance to allow a fourth dispensary.
Creating the fourth permit, however, may not be an easy feat as Mills and Hutcheson continue to oppose adding another collective in the city.
Palm Springs is the only city in the Coachella Valley to permit the sale of medical marijuana.
“To me, the question is: Does the city need a fourth location?” Hutcheson said.
“The numbers (of patients) I've seen being served so far suggest that three may provide adequate service. I just think we may need to know, do the folks who live in our city who need this medication, are they unable to be served by the three that we have and is a fourth needed?”
Hutcheson then suggested that the council look into applying a sales tax on medical marijuana.
Mills also mentioned concern about having a “concentrated area” of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Currently, dispensaries must be 1,000 feet from each other.
Visibly irritated by her colleague's comments, Mayor Pro Tem Ginny Foat said “the more we act like these facilities are some sort of terrible thing, the more they become a terrible thing.”
“I think the longer we are so uncomfortable and don't understand that these are places that are, in many cases, saving people's lives and we talk about them like they're like some sort of strip joint we perpetuate that myth within our community.”
Foat, a longtime advocate of medical marijuana, initiated the creation of a fourth permit in March when the the city's third permit was revoked from CannaHelp. That dispensary, owned by medical marijuana activist Stacy Hochanadel, had been inoperative for more than 90 days due to issues related to its lease.
The third permit has since been granted to C.A.P.S. Apothecary, despite opposition from Mills and Hutcheson.
C.A.P.S. had operated in Palm Springs for years without a permit and was in litigation with the city prior to receiving the permit last month.
There are at least six unlicensed pot dispensaries operating within Palm Springs, with many clustered in an industrial zone near Gene Autry Trail and Ramon Road known as “Little Amsterdam.”
“I don't think that anyone sitting up here is naïve. The reality is there are also some risky elements associated with these (collectives),” Hutcheson said.
“It's not to impugn the work that is being done to help patients, which is why I've supported the three in the past, but I think we need to go into this with eyes open and make sure we know what we're doing before we add additional facilities here.”
The Planning Commission is expected to review the amended ordinance in the coming weeks.
Mariecar Mendoza covers the city of Palm Springs for The Desert Sun. She can be reached at (760) 778-4669 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TDSMarMendoza.
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