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Florida Cities Unsure of Accepting New Medical Marijuana Rules

Even after Florida’s medical marijuana bill became law, some communities are still deciding on the language of their own ordinances.

New Port Richey, Orlando and Sarasota are just three cities that haven’t yet adopted the state’s marijuana law in regards to dispensaries. These cities are hoping to gain some measure of control over how or how many dispensaries are operating within their jurisdiction.

In Sarasota, city commissioners voted unanimously July 3 on a 60-day ban while they worked on a solution to their concerns about zoning for potential dispensaries.

“What we’re looking at is, are there any regulations that the city could impose on pharmacies based on where we have pharmacies now,” Sarasota city commissioner Liz Alpert said. “That would then aid us in being able to have some control over where dispensaries are located and how many and how far apart they are.”

Under the Florida state law, dispensaries are treated as pharmacies for zoning purposes. That means wherever a pharmacy is allowed to operate, so is a dispensary. Not to mention however a pharmacy operates, so can a dispensary.

These two items have been points of contention among both sides of the disagreements. Some local governments would like to see the drive-thru window, a staple at many pharmacies, to not become a reality once pot is being sold through them. Alpert says that although she wants a say in where dispensaries are allowed to pop up, she has no issue with how they operate as long as it’s within the law.

“I really don’t know why having a drive-thru is an issue,” Alpert said.

There’s also no restriction on where pharmacies can pop up in any given neighborhood. Under state law, a medical marijuana dispensary could be built within 500 feet of a school.

If a city or county refuses to accept all the stipulations in the law, they could forfeit their right to sell medical marijuana.

George Lindsey is a Polk County commissioner. He said that while he and his colleagues tried to set their own boundaries, such as having dispensaries being built at least 1,000 feet away from schools, the will of his voters had to be abided.

The commission voted unanimously to approve of the state law.

“Our county was not much different than the rest of the state,” Lindsey said. “It was over a 70 percent majority who felt this was a good idea. This commission was not going to take the option of banning it.” 

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Morgan McMullen is WUSF’s Stephen Noble Intern for Summer 2017. He is a senior at the University of Florida pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism with a concentration in American history. He graduated from Broward College in Davie with an associate degree while writing for The Observer, earning an FSCPA award for his news reporting. He currently writes for the Independent Florida Alligator as a sports reporter. Morgan takes particular interest in covering the social issues that surround sports. He draws inspiration from the writing styles of Bomani Jones and Bob Ryan