City bucks trend on marijuana dispensary

May 14, 2007

Will Bigham,, Daily Bulletin

CLAREMONT - Before making its final decision on whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, the City Council expects to conduct a thorough review of its options.

The city attorney has collected 25 sample ordinances from California cities and counties.

Council members say they want to talk to the state to get more information. Public input on the issue has been requested as well.

The attitude on display at the City Council's meeting last week puts the city in an unusual position among its Inland Valley neighbors: It might be the first to allow medical marijuana dispensaries.

"I have sympathy for those people who need marijuana for medical reasons, and I want to make sure we don't discount them," Councilwoman Ellen Taylor said.

Compared to Claremont, cities elsewhere in the Inland Valley have passed bans and moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries with the routineness of a street-sweeping contract.

But here, where a majority of council members have said they supported Prop. 215, which legalized medical marijuana, discussions of the issue have been lengthy and frequent, and pleas from staff to resolve the issue have been resisted.

Last week, a staff-recommended ordinance that would have banned dispensaries was met with bewilderment from much of the council.

"This particular ordinance we were considering was far-reaching," said Taylor, in reference to its ban of all businesses, not just dispensaries, that violate either state or federal law.

"I don't think we should ever make a decision based on inadequate information," Taylor added. "What the other cities are doing is their business. I don't agree with it."

In much of Southern California, medical marijuana has been greeted with hostility. Pot dispensaries have flourished in the cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood, and Los Angeles County has passed an ordinance that allows for the use as well.

Diamond Bar is the only city between Los Angeles and San Bernardino that has permitted the use, Claremont City Attorney Sonia Carvalho said. But there, the number of dispensaries permitted is limited to one.

The Los Angeles County ordinance, which requires a potential operator to apply for a conditional-use permit, has been the topic of some recent discussion in Claremont.

The ordinance, which former City Council candidate Michael Keenan routinely discusses at meetings, allows the county to limit the proximity of a dispensary to a school, playground, park and several other locations.

It places regulations on nearly every other aspect of a dispensary as well: the size of its sign, its exterior appearance, lighting, graffiti and hours of operation.

It also includes provisions designed to protect the county from legal liability should the federal government move to disrupt a dispensary, as it did recently in West Hollywood when several dispensaries were raided by federal officers.

"Claremont likes to take everything under consideration and be thoughtful in its decision-making," said Councilman Sam Pedroza.

Pedroza, who supported Prop. 215, says he wants to make sure those who need it can obtain medical marijuana.

"I think that's what the voters voted for," Pedroza said. "We're trying to determine how to make that happen."

The council is expected to revisit the issue in early July.

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