By Judith Salkin
Walk past the bank and the auto shop and you might not notice that the store in-between the two is a medical marijuana dispensary, except for the lettering on the door.
The Inland Valley Therapeutic Healing Center, in Thousand Palms, looks more like a small medical office, which in this case is a doctor prescribed marijuana dispensary that helps patients to fight Multiple Sclerosis, chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy, anxiety and pain.
“Most of our patients are in their 40s to 60s,” said co-owner Abe Robbin of the dispensary’s clients. Now those patients are in danger of losing their dispensary after the California Supreme Court ruled that even with the passage of Prop. 215 and SB420, cities and counties across the state have the right to enact ordinances to their land use and zoning powers to prohibit storefront dispensaries.
“That’s absolutely right,” said Bill Webb, co-owner of IVTHC. “Prop 215 and SB420 made it legal to sell medical marijuana, but they didn’t address where it could be sold.”
In the decision, handed down on May 6, Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the seven-member court, “While some counties and cities might consider themselves well-suited to accommodating medical marijuana dispensaries, conditions in other communities might lead to the reasonable decision that such facilities within their borders, even if carefully sited, well managed, and closely monitored, would present unacceptable local risks and burdens.” According to Robbin, the justices also “highly recommended that the legislature rewrite the laws.”
When IVTHC first opened in 2010 it was as a delivery only service, with the storefront opening in November of that year. Robbin and Webb, chose the unincorporated area of Riverside County industrial area because it did not require a business license, although they made sure to comply with all other requirements of operating a business such as sales tax registration. “We pay sales tax, state and federal taxes,” Robbin said. “And we have a seller’s license from the Franchise Tax Board.”
The dispensary was set up as a member’s collective, “If you’re not a member, you can’t even come in the building,” Robbin said. The dispensary is patrolled by a security service, “They’ve even called our neighbors when they’ve seen something out of place,” Webb said. “So we’re providing security for the businesses around us.”
In the end, if IVTHC is force to close or relocate, it is the patients that will bear the greatest burden. “They’re like my extended family,” said Joanne Bartee, 60, who is fighting inoperable Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer that is now also in her bones.
Bartee, who is waiting for final approval of permanent disability and living on less than half of her former income as a teacher, lives near IVTHC in Palm Desert. She uses medical marijuana to help manage the incredible pain and anxiety she lives with every day. “It helps me to deal and not give up,” she said.
When she was diagnosed, Bartee looked into several other dispensaries in the valley, finding that many offered marijuana that was out of her price range. If the dispensary is forced to close by the county, it will be a blow to Bartee financially and emotionally.
“They not only supply me with the medication I need, but they care about me,” she said. “They make sure I’m taken care of. Everyone there genuinely cares about what happens to me. They care about all their patients.”
The dispensary remains open and will do so pending the outcome of IVTHC’s fight with the county to stay in business, Robbin said, to serve its patients’ needs and keep their dozen or so employees working.
“We provide a service to the community,” he said. “The county should stop trying to close businesses like ours and instead use the money to support schools or the police and fire departments. Marijuana is never going to go away, and whether people get it from a safe place or the guy on the street corner, they’re still going to use it. At least this way, they know what they’re getting.”