Claremont takes a stand: medical marijuana approved

July 26, 2007

, Claremont Courier (CA)

Cheers erupted from the council chamber just past midnight Wednesday morning as medical marijuana advocates celebrated the city council’s decision to permit medical marijuana in Claremont.

Despite clearly expressed objections from city staff, including police chief Paul Cooper, the council voted by a narrow margin in favor of allowing one dispensary to operate within the city limits, albeit “with very strict regulation.”

The borderline decision, a 3-2 vote, was reflected in the last-second decision by councilmember Sam Pedroza. With the rest of the council split 2 to 2, all eyes were on Mr. Pedroza when he was asked for his vote to ban the dispensaries. The clearly torn council member took several moments pause, pondering his final decision, before finally answering “No.”

“My brain is telling me something very different from what my heart is telling me,” said Mr. Pedroza, who explained how his mother passed away from cancer and might have been helped by the medicine. “My brain is saying that this isn’t going to work in our city, and my heart is saying: ‘What a missed opportunity [if we don’t allow] marijuana to help our real sick people.’”

Council members Linda Elderkin and Ellen Taylor also voted in favor of allowing a dispensary, although both expressed serious reservations about how dispensaries have been operating across the state and would only support a highly restrictive ordinance, which permitted just one non-profit dispensary. Other restrictions would include where the dispensary would be located, limits on days and hours of operation and security measures. 

“[I want] the toughest ordinance we could come up with that didn’t absolutely alienate users,” Ms. Elderkin said.

Mayor Peter Yao and councilmember Corey Calaycay, who both voted against allowing a dispensary, cited difficulties with regulating them and argued that it is not the role of individual cities to come up with successful ordinances on them.

Public Input

About a dozen residents attended the public meeting to speak out, including one who suggested placing a new dispensary next to the Claremont police department and that tax revenue raised from marijuana sales could go towards building a new police station. Others suffering from serious illnesses spoke out in support of medical marijuana.

“Because I do use medical marijuana, it seems to help me, especially with the effects of the chemo [therapy], and not being able to sleep,” said Anthony Alvarez, who said he has terminal liver cancer and lung cancer.

“Whether we buy it legally or on the streets is up to you folks,” he added. “To set the pace forward to where it be decriminalized and where we can get it in a legal and safe way, rather than in the streets, would be to your advantage and to the city of Claremont’s.”

Those opposed to allowing a medical marijuana dispensary in Claremont also spoke out.

“I am concerned because I have a young son still,” said resident Darrell Munson. “I have researched on the Internet and found problems in other cities that have had dispensaries, that recognize that marijuana is sold from those who are able to obtain it to those who should not have it.”

Another Claremont resident agreed.

“I care for those who are dying or in pain, but I also care for those who are healthy,” said Mina Orr. “For those who are dying, why do they have to drag others also to an early grave by promoting the use of marijuana?”

Possible Model

The decision sets Claremont apart from nearly all of its neighbors as most cities throughout the Inland Empire have either banned or instituted moratoria against the dispensaries. Only Diamond Bar has allowed one dispensary to operate in its city, and council members expressed interest in possibly following their model.

Diamond Bar’s dispensary has been in operation for a little over a year and has not attracted any crime problems, said Nancy Fong, community development director of Diamond Bar. It is located in a commercial zone of the city, with no signs allowed, a security guard outside and operates between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. It also must be well lit at all times, and medicine is not permitted to be consumed or inhaled on site.

“It does provide a service that was needed,” Ms. Fong said. “But at same time, cities have to be careful that only the truly needy are making use of the service. Other cities have more issues [with crime.] Cities have to look at this very carefully that it doesn’t go the wrong way more, to the illegal side.”

Looking Ahead

The question remains over who will be allowed to operate the lone dispensary in town. The council decision to limit Claremont to only one dispensary could set up a showdown between two medical marijuana activists who for months have been anxious to set up shop in Claremont.

Both Darrell Kruse and David Kasakove attended and spoke at the council meeting, outlining their cases for operating dispensaries. After the vote, each argued their case for being Claremont’s sole medical marijuana provider.

“I’m the only one who’s operated a dispensary in Claremont,” said Mr. Kruse, who first opened his establishment back in September before legal battles with the city forced him to shut down. “I’m grandfathered in. My attorney would have a field day if they let someone else in.”

Mr. Kasakove, a Claremont native who has previous experience operating medical marijuana dispensaries in other cities, hopes the city council will favor his proposal after holding several meetings with council members over the past two months.

“I have 11 years of experience in this field. I have seen the good and bad, proper implementation and abuses of the system,” Mr. Kasakove said. “Our goal is to set up a dispensary that could become a statewide model and would meet all the criteria necessary to be valid throughout the state, which could get rid of all the cowboys who are into it for profiteering.”

Despite the vote, Claremont is still several months away from seeing a medical marijuana dispensary in operation. City staff will likely come back before the council after the summer break in September asking for a one-year extension on the moratorium to allow staff enough time to craft the ordinance, city manager Jeff Parker said.



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