Marijuana gains new foe

August 23, 2007

Will Bigham, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA)

RANCHO CUCAMONGA - A newly formed organization opposed to medical- marijuana dispensaries is urging local governments to prohibit the businesses.

The Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition fears dispensaries will attract crime and increase illicit marijuana use by people who do not need the drug for medical reasons.

"It will bring criminal activity, blight," said Brenda Chabot, the Rancho Cucamonga-based group's executive director. "Political leaders should have enough courage to say they don't want these in their communities."

Group members include law-enforcement officials, substance-abuse workers, youth representatives and others.

They are now planning community events to educate the public about the negative impact they believe dispensaries would have on Inland Valley communities.

On Oct. 2, the group plans to hold an event on substance abuse at the Cultural Center at Victoria Gardens.

"Access is a huge contributor to the use of any drug, and the ease of access - the easier it is the more use there will be," said Diana Fox, executive director of the nonprofit Reach Out West End, and a member of the new organization.

"The communities that have seen these establishments come in have seen that it's not just medical users who are visiting the dispensary," Fox added. "It's much easier for youth and adults to be able to obtain it."

Chabot formed the group after learning of a federal program that helps groups seeking solutions to substance abuse.

The group lacks steady funding, but it is working to secure federal grants, Chabot said.

In the past year, cities in the Inland Valley have been forced to address the issue of medical-marijuana dispensaries after local activists attempted to open dispensaries in Claremont, Pomona and Norco.

Most cities, including Rancho Cucamonga, have banned dispensaries or have passed moratoriums to temporarily prohibit them.

Only Claremont and Diamond Bar have reacted differently, with each city agreeing to allow one dispensary to operate.

Members of the coalition believe that such tolerance will have a negative impact on communities, citing the personal experience of its members, many of whom have backgrounds in law enforcement.

And Fox, of Reach Out West End, works daily with people she says have had their lives ruined by marijuana problems.

"Youth are losing their relationships with their families over marijuana, having more confrontations in the home, and adults are effected in their careers and don't have the ambition or the will to continue to seek their goals in life," Fox said.

"We hear these stories on a weekly basis from our clients, that when they finally get off the marijuana they see a vast change in their lives for the better."

Advocates for local marijuana dispensaries say such businesses are needed to supply the drug to people who need for medical purposes.

California has allowed the medical use of marijuana since state voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, but users are still subject to federal law, which outlaws marijuana.

Without dispensaries, advocates say, medical users are forced to buy marijuana from street dealers.

"The patients don't have another way to acquire medicine," said David Kasakove, a marijuana activist who is seeking to open a dispensary in Claremont. "There's no other source of medicine. They don't know how to grow it, or they don't have the time and energy to grow it. A dispensary is necessary just as a pharmacy is necessary."

But the Coalition believes people who need marijuana for medical reasons should use Marinol, a federally recognized drug in pill form that has a similar, though weaker, effect to smoked marijuana.

"Today, voters would probably not approve medical marijuana, especially if they knew the dangers of it," Chabot said.

Staff writer Will Bigham can be reached by e-mail at, or by phone at (909) 483-8553.

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