BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
CENTRAL FL - Three Orange County cities are planning on banning new proposed medical marijuana dispensaries, citing state rules that prevent local governments from regulating the shops any differently than a drug store.
New state rules give local governments the authority to ban medical marijuana retail outlets but forbid regulating the dispensaries more harshly than pharmacies, which often are located near neighborhoods, churches, parks, schools and each other.
Cities are citing locations of dispensaries towards proximity of schools as the reason for their respective bans.
Of the cities Orlando, had adopted rules to prevent an “over concentration” of dispensaries.
In November 2016, medical marijuana, a contested item on the ballot two years prior, was approved by Florida voters.
The language drafted for Winter Park and Winter Garden cites a 2009 “white paper” developed by the California Police Chiefs Association that suggests dispensaries may contribute to “a secondary market for illegal, street-level distribution of marijuana.”
Authors of the Bill: Senator Rob Bradley, Fleming Island; Senator Jeff Brandes, St. Petersburg; Senator Richard Steube- Sponsor; and Senator Robert Young- Sponsor.
After the original legislation fell apart on the final day of the regular session last month, the chambers approved the bill during the final day of the special session. The House passed it 103-9 before the Senate voted 29-6.
Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law on Jun.9
"They worked hard to get a bill that made sense. I think, in anything like this, there's a process on how to make things better," Scott said.
The legislation allows patients who suffer chronic pain related to 10 qualifying conditions to receive either low-THC cannabis or full-strength medical marijuana. THC is the compound that gives marijuana users a high.
According to the Department of Health, the state registry now has 16,614 patients. A recent state revenue impact study projects that by 2022 there will be 472,000 medical cannabis patients and $542 million in sales.
The bill still bans smoking the marijuana, despite amendment supporters saying it is written into the language. John Morgan, who played a key role in getting the amendment on the ballot and passed, has filed suit over this issue in Leon County Circuit Court.
“Inhalation is a medically effective and efficient way to deliver Tetrahydrocannabinol [THC], and other cannabinoids, to the bloodstream,” wrote Morgan and his lead lawyer, Jon Mills, a constitutional lawyer and former Democratic House speaker, on behalf of Florida for Care Inc., the non-profit formed to promote the initiative.
“By redefining the constitutionally defined term ‘medical use’ to exclude smoking ,the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of a ‘licensed Florida physician’ and its direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process”, the lawsuit states.
Medical marijuana products can be sold as edibles, vaping, oils, sprays or tinctures. Patients may receive an order for three 70-day supplies before having to visit a doctor again to get re-examined.
Those adopting or extending moratoriums on dispensaries:
•Marathon City, located in the Keys, has extended its moratorium for another 180 days.
•Collier County has also imposed a county-wide moratorium through the end of 2017.
•Coral Gables, located near Miami, has also voted to impose a ban on dispensaries.
•City of Sarasota, located south of Tampa, imposed a 60 day moratorium.
Two weeks ago, Vero Beach on Florida’s east coast became the first city to impose a ban on new medical cannabis dispensaries since the state issued its rules.
Knox Cannabis Dispensary opened the region’s first medical marijuana shop June 2 on North Orange Avenue in Ivanhoe Village. A second shop, planned by Trulieve on North Orange Blossom Trail, is in the permitting process.
Under a new bill passed by lawmakers in special session, 17 companies will be allowed up to 425 dispensaries until the number of registered patients grows from roughly 20,000 now to 100,000 in two to three years.
After hearing from several residents who wanted the Winter Garden Commission to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, the group voted unanimously to go forward with a ban on the businesses.
Winter Garden city leaders have been considering a ban since medical marijuana was approved by 70 percent of Florida voters.
Their choice was to ban dispensaries.
Winter Garden resident Joseph Richardson spoke to commissioners Thursday, saying that voters approved medical marijuana in the state and the city should abide by that decision and allow dispensaries in the city.
“Seventy percent of Florida voters said they want this,” Richardson said.
City Manager Mike Bollhoefer, though, told commissioners that until they have more ability to regulate dispensaries, they should enact the ban.
“We’re recommending the ban until such time the Legislature makes adjustments to their legislation to give us some control over the zoning and location of the stores,” he said.
Resident Sherri Allen argued that medical marijuana would benefit the community, not hurt it.
“We have alcohol in the city. We have guns, gun sales, and those are much worse and create a lot more crime than medical marijuana dispensaries do,” she said.
Knox Nursery, which grows medical marijuana in Winter Garden, would not be affected by the ordinance.
Attorney Tara Tedrow, who represents Knox, said if local governments continue to ban dispensaries, they open themselves up to legal challenges for denying patients reasonable access to the drug.
“If their only option is to have to pay for at-home delivery services on a monthly basis to be able to get the medication that they’re being ordered by a physician, that could cause a problem on a legal front in the future,” she said.