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Collier commissioners ban medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas

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Commissioners voted to enact an ordinance that would ban the establishment or location of medical marijuana dispensing facilities in unincorporated parts of the county.

The Collier County Commission on Tuesday passed an ordinance to ban medical marijuana treatment center dispensing facilities in unincorporated parts of the county.

The measure, which passed unanimously, will also prevent medical marijuana dispensaries within 500 feet of a school or a church.

Currently, Collier residents can only get medical marijuana by going to a dispensary on Marco Island, going to another county or by delivery.

According to Commissioner Bill McDaniel, counties had two options: ban dispensaries or allow them under the zoning classification of a pharmacy.

McDaniel said that on two previous occasions, he tried to bring forward an ordinance to allow medical cannabis dispensaries in Collier.

He said the county attorney referred him to part of the county land development code that would prevent such an ordinance. Any change would require a land development code amendment, according to McDaniel.

Those amendments require a supermajority vote of the commissioners. That means four of the five commissioners would have to vote in favor of the amendment. A simple majority would not work, McDaniel said.

“I didn't agree with my attorney’s interpretation because I felt that the state gave me a definition that did fit within my land development code because there is a definition for pharmacies within my land development code,” McDaniel said. “They can be allowed on Commercial 3 and up zoning. My county attorney contended that no one ever challenged him.”

McDaniel said when he has tried to bring forward an ordinance to allow medical cannabis dispensaries, he could not get four votes because of ideological differences.

“So we were existing in a de facto ban, but never formally voted to ban [medical marijuana dispensaries]," McDaniel said.

He tried to contest the ban last fall for a third time before new commissioners were elected. It was very unlikely that the new commissioners would vote against the ban, he said.

“It has moved into a constitutionality issue with Collier County as opposed to the pros and cons of cannabis, medical cannabis and the dispensaries or not,” McDaniel said. “[The Constitution] is one of my guiding principles that I utilize while I'm making my decisions.”

McDaniel voted in favor of the ban Tuesday.

“I didn't vote to do the ban because I'm opposed to medical cannabis or the dispensaries," he explained. "I did it because we have a necessity to follow the Constitution.”

According to Florida law, a county that does not ban medical marijuana dispensaries cannot place a limit on how many dispensing facilities there are in that county.

Nick Garulay, the founder and CEO of My Florida Green, a company that helps qualifying patients obtain medical marijuana cards, spoke against the ban at Tuesday's commission meeting.

According to the company’s website, My Florida Green has helped more than 34,000 qualifying Floridians receive a medical marijuana card.

Garulay said he has seen around 65% of patients get off a prescription drug while using medical marijuana.

“This is a natural alternative [to other medications] that's never killed anyone in history,” he said.

He said he has seen medical marijuana significantly help people and their health. That’s why he spent around $1.6 million out of pocket to launch My Florida Green.

“It’s to change the world and it’s to help these people who are suffering from debilitating conditions,” Garulay said.

Steven Brooder, the CEO of St. Matthew’s House, also spoke at the meeting. St. Matthew’s House runs the only long term residential recovery program in Collier County.

“I'm here today to express our opposition to lifting the ban on medical on marijuana dispensaries, " he said.”

He said that 80% of people who come to the St. Mathew's House program for drug recovery report using marijuana.

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk submitted a letter at the meeting that supported the ban.

Jon Maines, a retired Naples police officer, also voiced support for the ban. He has a concern that if police are called for additional drug cases, that would take away from more important things.

“If you had a call of a homeless person who was on drugs, say the Fresh Market in Park Shore, it would take two officers in the northern part of the city to handle that,” Maines said. “Meanwhile, if somebody's having a baby who's choking, somebody's having a heart attack or stroke, there's nobody to send."

This story was produced by FGCU Journalism's Democracy Watch program. Katie Fogarty can be reached at .

Copyright 2023 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Katie Fogarty