A short-lived pilot program is being revived to provide Rancho Mirage residents with a $25 monthly stipend to travel to medical marijuana dispensary outside the city.
The program expired more than three years ago and, until recently, city leaders didn’t realize it. Council members this month approved a plan to renew it, including waiving all business license fees and renewal fees for cannabis cooperatives or collectives that do not charge for delivery to city residents and their caregivers.
“It really was intended to provide access, to make medical marijuana accessible to people,” City Manager Randy Bynder said about the pilot program.
The city does not permit medical cannabis dispensaries to operate in the city, but it does allow delivery services.
The subsidy is designed for those patients who belong to dispensaries that don’t deliver in the city.
No one took the city up on its offer during the initial six-month program that launched on Feb. 3, 2011. Not has there been any takers since the program was revived, Bynder said.
City officials said they had no idea it had actually expired until a month or so ago, when Mayor Pro Tem Dana Hobart discovered it and asked that the program be brought back.
“I gather that, because no one was using the program and there was no one clamoring to continue the program, the City Council was not aware it had expired or they assumed that the program was still going,” City Attorney Steve Quintanilla said in an e-mail.
Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs are the only Coachella Valley cities that allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate.
Palm Springs was the first city in Riverside County to allow pot shops. There are three licensed dispensaries, and a fourth one planned to eventually open.
Cathedral City lifted its ban on dispensaries in late July, while the Desert Hot Springs City Council in late October decided to allow three such businesses to operate.
Medical marijuana shops hoping to open in both those cities are currently going through the application process.
“With dispensaries now permitted in adjacent Cathedral City, it is more likely that some Rancho Mirage residents may want to take advantage of the transportation subsidy program if they join a dispensary in Cathedral City that does not deliver and they have limited transportation options available to them,” Quintanilla said.
The Rancho Mirage City Council approved designating $4,000 a month — or $48,000 a year — for the program, allowing 160 residents to take advantage of the program each month.
The reimbursement is limited for transportation to a dispensary within 25 miles of the city’s center at Bob Hope and Country Club drives.
At $25 a month, the subsidy should cover round-trip public or private transportation such as via bus, shuttle or taxi to pick up the medical cannabis. Patients or their caregivers will be required to show proof of transportation, such as a bus ticket or receipt, to receive the reimbursement.
Jim Camper, president of Organic Solutions of the Desert, gets several Rancho Mirage residents at his Palm Springs shop. He said the subsidies are a great idea, especially for those who don’t drive and want to belong to a legal dispensary.
His is one of the few legal shops in the desert, but he doesn’t deliver. He sees a lot of taxis transporting patients to his location for their medication.
“Most cities really, I think, need a bricks and mortar (dispensary),” Camper said of the subsidy. “They’re a small town, they do everything a little different. It works for them.”