Pasco Holds Public Hearing On Medical Pot Dispensaries

Aug 9, 2016

Pasco County Commissioners met Tuesday in Dade City to discuss an extension on a county-wide ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Commissioners say the ban is needed until the county gets on the same page with law enforcement and land development coding.

Some residents feel like they’re trying to keep medical marijuana out of the county all together. Caregivers and cancer survivors gave tearful testimony at a podium at the Pasco County Courthouse.

Greg Smithwick, a Hudson resident and medical marijuana advocate, said the ban forces very sick patients to go to other counties for their medicine.

“These are people,” Smithwick said. “They’re not some other county’s problem. They are our problem. They are our people. They’re not those people. It’s my aunt. Could be your mother, could be your child.”

Denise Houston, a breast cancer survivor from New Port Richey, said marijuana was the only thing that got her through a painful radiation treatment.

“Cannabis is the only thing that helped me continue going,” Houston said. “I think it should be between me and my doctor.”

“What you all you have done for true patients is make them feel like criminals when they have to go get their medication,” Houston said.

Michelle Flood of Hudson has been a caregiver for several family members. She cried talking about her father, who struggled to eat and refused to talk.

“My daddy was this big strong, Greek man who had Alzheimer’s and glaucoma and I watched him lose all of his weight and not be able to eat or carry on a conversation. Somebody brought him some cannabis, which he ate because it was on a brownie. He ate everything in the house that day and he talked to us for the first time ever."

SB 1030 was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott allowing for a specific low-THC strain of medical cannabis as the “Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014."

Trulieve, the first organization authorized to dispense medical marijuana in Florida, and with a dispensary in Tallahassee, made its first home delivery of low-THC medical cannabis to a patient in Hudson who has dystonia.

Patients can be treated with medical marijuana in Florida as long as they are "suffering from cancer or a physical medical condition that chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms." Doctors, the law states,  "may order for the patient’s medical use low-THC cannabis to treat such disease, disorder, or condition or to alleviate symptoms of such disease, disorder, or condition, if no other satisfactory alternative treatment options exist for that patient," as long as both are listed in a state registry, but there are only 15 doctors in that registry so far.

This month, another dispensary will open its doors in Clearwater.

Tuesday’s Pasco meeting was the first of two public hearings to extend the ban on dispensaries on Pasco. The ban ends Sept. 2. The extension would last through Dec. 31 if approved.

AN ORDINANCE BY THE PASCO COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS RELATING TO PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY, EXTENDING A TEMPORARY MORATORIUM UNTIL DECEMBER 31, 2016 ON THE CULTIVATION, PROCESSING, OR DISPENSING OF CANNABIS, INCLUDING LOW-THC CANNABIS; PROVIDING FOR ENFORCEMENT, VIOLATIONS AND PENALTY; APPLICABILITY; REPEALER; PROVIDING FOR SEVERABILITY, INCLUSION IN THE PASCO COUNTY LAND DEVELOPMENT CODE, AND AN EFFECTIVE DATE.

“This is an extension of an existing moratorium to be able to put land development code regulations and/or police power regulations in the code or ordinances in place before it begins in Pasco County” said Commissioner Mike Moore.

“You can’t keep continuing a moratorium just to keep it (medical marijuana) out," Moore said. "This is a device you use in a land use setting to allow you to be able to deal with a new use which hasn’t previously been an issue in Pasco County at all. In theory, it should have been completed in September. We asked the board in July to approve us for additional time.”

The commissioners also plan on doing a workshop that includes doctors and medical marijuana experts to see how the county should move forward with dispensaries.

Commissioner Mike Wells said the board owes it to Pasco residents to make an educated decision.

“It’s been in the news for years,” Wells said. “Well, here we are, it’s in front of us. We need to be educated. I agree with Chairman (Kathryn) Starkey. We need to do a workshop to spend much more time getting educated sooner than later.”

About a dozen people spoke during public comment period, and less than half were against dispensaries in the county.

Monica Rousseau, coordinator for the Pasco County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, said her organization is concerned that dispensaries in the county will harm children and teenagers.

“You know how complicated drug policy can be,” Rousseau said. “Considerations like access, the strong influence of marketing and safety protocols are a few things that must be thoroughly analyzed and addressed to protect youth in the county.”

The second public hearing will take place Aug. 23 in New Port Richey at the West Pasco Government Center. Commissioners will vote on whether to extend the ban, or let it expire next month.

Daylina Miller is a reporter with WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is part of  Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.