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Claremont To Make Call On Medical Marijuana

Cozmo

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In the 10 months since Darrell Kruse opened his dispensary here, the city has become an unlikely battleground in the state's legally uncertain medical-marijuana program.

Kruse, who opened his dispensary last September without city permission or a business license, was fought by the city and forced by court order to shut down.

Since its initial battle with Kruse and despite the current moratorium prohibiting dispensaries, the City Council has appeared to soften its stance against medical marijuana. During its most recent discussion in May, several council members made comments in favor of dispensaries.

The City Council is poised to decide at its meeting Tuesday night whether it will ban dispensaries - as nearly all of its neighboring cities have - or become one of the first in the Inland Empire to allow and regulate the controversial businesses.

"The easiest thing would have been for the council to say, `No, we don't want it - let's ban it,' or to continue the moratorium," said Sam Pedroza, seen as the swing vote on the issue among a split five-member council. "That would have been the easiest thing, but this council took a different approach. I think it was a better approach."

Conflicts between state and federal law on marijuana - underscored by recent federal raids of several Southern California dispensaries - have caused officials in local cities to balk when approached by potential dispensary operators.

Since state voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996 by passing Proposition 215, about 27 cities and counties have decided to allow dispensaries, 30 have banned dispensaries, and about 62 have passed temporary moratoriums that bar the businesses, according to a Claremont staff report.

In the Inland Empire, the only city to allow a medical-marijuana dispensary has been Diamond Bar, which passed an ordinance last year allowing a dispensary that opened without city sanction to remain in operation.

Every other city in the Inland Empire has fought to close dispensaries that have opened without permission - including Pomona, Norco, Corona and Riverside - and the remainder have passed bans or moratoriums prohibiting the businesses.

Claremont has reacted differently.

A majority of the City Council members have said they voted in favor of Proposition 215. Arguments against dispensaries in the city have focused on the state's conflict with federal law rather than questions about the legitimacy of medical marijuana.

A contingent of activists - picking up on the city's openness on the issue - has become regulars at City Council meetings. One couple, Upland residents Dave and Darlene Matteson, bake the council cookies and brownies on a regular basis.

For Tuesday's meeting, city staff has prepared a comprehensive report for the council on the state's medical-marijuana program.

Examples are included of regulations in cities and counties that have allowed dispensaries such as San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and West Hollywood.

"I need to be sure we can regulate a medical-marijuana dispensary really well. I would like to allow it if I can," said Councilwoman Linda Elderkin, who along with Councilwoman Ellen Taylor has been generally supportive of allowing dispensaries in the city.

"I am very much looking forward to our staff report to see what different approaches they have found to regulate it."

Cities identified in the staff report have placed limits on dispensaries' operating hours, limits to the proximity of the businesses to schools, churches and parks, and have included regulations designed to ensure that dispensaries are not being used as fronts for indiscriminate drug dealing.

"I would like to make sure that the people getting the medical marijuana are people who are ill and need it," Elderkin said. "I would like to make sure that the people selling it to them are nonprofit. ... This is a service to the community. The prices should be reasonable."

City officials have been meeting in recent months with David Kasakove, a potential dispensary operator who says he is willing to subject himself to city regulations if he is able to open a dispensary.

Kasakove, a Claremont native, said he will give a short pitch to the council at Tuesday night's meeting.

"I'm going to keep it short and sweet," Kasakove said. "Claremont was voted fifth-best city in the country to live. If there's a city in the state that is perfect for a model dispensary program, it's Claremont."

Tracking the case

September 2006 - Darrell Kruse opens a medical-marijuana dispensary in Claremont without notifying city officials or obtaining a business license. His dispensary initially serves two patients.

Sept. 26, 2006 - The City Council passes a 45-day moratorium on dispensaries in response to inquiries from several potential dispensary operators. At the meeting, Kruse reveals that his dispensary has already opened.

October 2006 - Kruse ignores letters early in the month from city officials demanding that he shut down. On Oct. 24, the City Council extends its moratorium an additional 10 1/2 months. The next day, the city issues Kruse a criminal citation. A court date is set for Dec. 26. Fueled by local news coverage, Kruse's customer base expands to 100 by the end of the month.

Feb. 2, 2007 - After several court hearings, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issues a temporary restraining order mandating that Kruse shut down his dispensary. The dispensary has 550 regular medical-marijuana customers at the time it is shut down.

March 15 - Kruse is ordered by a judge to remain closed through the conclusion of his court battle with the city. A trial date is set for Jan. 14, 2008.

May 8 - The City Council rejects a staff recommendation to pass a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, with several council members appearing to be in favor of allowing dispensaries in the city. The council requests that staff conduct a comprehensive review of medical-marijuana dispensaries in the state.


News Mod: CoZmO - 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: San Bernardino Sun (CA)
Author: Will Bigham
Contact: citydesk@sbsun.com
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Website: San Bernardino County Sun
 
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