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Pot Dispensary Ordered to Close Doors

The city of Rancho Mirage had filed suit against Safe Access Wellness Center on Highway 111.

An appeals court has ordered a medical marijuana dispensary in Rancho Mirage to stop operating, a city attorney said Thursday.

The California Fourth District Court of Appeal's Division 2 in Riverside issued the order on Tuesday, ruling in favor of Rancho Mirage's petition to close Safe Access Wellness Center on Highway 111. The appeal court's ruling overturned Riverside County Superior Court Judge John G. Evans' Aug. 29 decision that denied the city a preliminary injunction against the facility that allowed it to stay open, according to Rancho Mirage City Attorney Steve Quintanilla.

The appeal court's order stated that the dispensary is "prohibited from operating or otherwise using property in the city of Rancho Mirage in violation of the Rancho Mirage Municipal Code."

The city filed suit against All Valley Desert Cooperative Inc., the operator of Safe Access Wellness Center, on July 10.

The dispensary opened at 72067 Highway 111 without a certificate of occupancy, something required to occupy any structure in the state, and the city's municipal code bans medical marijuana dispensaries, Quintanilla said.

Safe Access was served with the order on Wednesday, and Quintanilla's office sent a letter today to the dispensary's attorneys.

"(T)he city demands that the dispensary immediately close its doors and cease all operations, including but not limited to distribution of marijuana," the letter said. If the dispensary doesn't comply, the city will start contempt proceedings, according to the letter.

Safe Access's attorneys couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

Quintanilla said the city anticipates the dispensary will close "in the very near future."

"I am not surprised at the outcome because this court of appeal clearly understands the scope of the city's local zoning authority," Quintanilla wrote in an email. "Just because nuclear power plants are legal does not mean that cities have to permit them. It is really that plain and simple to me from a legal perspective. We are not dealing with access, since we don't prohibit personal delivery or using and growing in the privacy of one's home. We are dealing with the issue from a land use perspective -- in particular its retail storefront component."

Quintanilla said in August that city staff, after an inspection, denied the dispensary a certificate of occupancy because it wasn't handicapped- accessible and parking space sizes didn't comply with the state building code. The permit was also denied because of the city's dispensary ban, which is still in effect while the city appeals another Indio judge's ruling that its ban was invalid.

Safe Access attorney Joseph Rhea previously told CNS that the city was trying to enforce a ban that another 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 in July, and the city appealed White's ruling. Quintanilla said the appeal probably won't be argued until at least February, and will likely be heard by the same panel of judges who upheld the city of Riverside's ban on pot dispensaries.

In May, the city was sued by another dispensary, Remedy Inc., after it denied its application to occupy a space on Highway 111, basing its denial on its dispensary ban.

Quintanilla said the case could be resolved in trial court in the next several months. If the trial court rules against the city, he said he will appeal.

Rhea previously told CNS 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.

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