INDIO - A judge today granted the city of Rancho Mirage's request
for a temporary restraining order to close a medical marijuana dispensary.
The city filed suit against Rancho Mirage Safe Access Wellness Center on
July 10. The dispensary opened at 72067 Highway 111 without a certificate of
occupancy, which is required to occupy any structure in the state, and the
city's municipal code bans medical marijuana dispensaries, City Attorney Steve
Quintanilla said.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge John G. Evans heard arguments for
and against the restraining order in his Indio courtroom on Friday and issued a
written ruling today.
"Whether or not the city's ban on medical marijuana dispensar(ies) is
void or unenforceable, the dispensary still must obtain a certificate of
occupancy and a business license," Evans wrote.
Quintanilla said that because the restraining order was granted on an
emergency basis, another hearing is scheduled for Aug. 27. At that hearing, the
judge will decide whether to extend the order and issue a preliminary
injunction, which would keep the dispensary closed until trial, Quintanilla
said.
"As I argued to the court, a certificate of occupancy is required of
every business in the city of Rancho Mirage ...," Quintanilla said in a
prepared statement. "It is all about ensuring that a building is safe for
occupation by guests, customers, employees or patients. I believe it is very
troubling for a business that claims to be in the business of serving ill
people that they don't understand this very basic concept that is intended to
protect the public from harm.
"In this particular case, I find it egregious that the owners of the
dispensary did not believe it was important for the city's fire and building
inspectors to check out the premises to make sure their property was safe for
their customers (which they claim themselves are their patients)," he wrote.
Dispensary attorney Joseph Rhea could not be immediately reached for
comment today. But he told City News Service last week that the city was trying
to enforce a ban that another Indio judge had already ruled was illegal.
Judge Randall D. White issued that ruling in the city's case involving
another medical marijuana dispensary, Desert Heart Collective, which sued the
city for $2.2 million in February 2011 after shutting down. The dispensary
dropped its claim for damages last month, and the city appealed White's ruling.
On July 19, Desert Heart Collective submitted an application -- which
the city denied -- to occupy a space at 69-730 Highway 111. Quintanilla said
the city's ban is still in effect "since Judge White's ruling has essentially
been stayed in light of the city's pending appeal."
He said appeals can take up to a year -- by which time the California
Supreme Court is expected to rule on several cases relating to medical
marijuana dispensaries, including whether cities can ban dispensaries.
In May, the city was sued by another dispensary, Remedy Inc., after the
city denied its application to occupy a space on Highway 111, basing its denial
on its dispensary ban. That case is pending in federal court in Los Angeles,
Quintanilla said.
Rhea told CNS last week that in the Safe Access Wellness Center case,
the city is "re-litigating what they already lost" because of White's ruling
that the city's ban was illegal.
"The state ... is very clear -- patients have reasonable access to
medical marijuana," he said. Rhea said the dispensary's operators are happy to
relocate or change hours "and the city just says no."
He said the dispensary opened near Eisenhower Medical Center because a
lot of chemotherapy patients had recommendations for medical marijuana from the
hospital.