Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Lee County in holding pattern over marijuana

This April 15, 2017 file photo shows marijuana plants on display at a medical marijuana provider in downtown Los Angeles.


With the Collier County Commission extending a moratorium on medical marijuana this week many have been asking how other counties in Southwest Florida will be handling the issue.

According to Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, Lee has yet to take action on the issue because they have been waiting for more guidance from the state on how the process will work.

“We haven’t talked about it as a board,” Pendergrass said. “We’ll talk to staff and hear their recommendations on land use and the regulations that would be required to sell it.”

During a special session in June, the Florida Legislature hammered out a deal to regulate medical marijuana that broke the state into five sections. Southwest Florida is included in a zone with 11 other counties that stretches all the way to Hillsborough County.

17 companies are allowed to operate 25 dispensaries a piece meaning 425 total locations could open across Florida. The number of locations is apportioned by the population in each area so that would likely mean 72 dispensaries could operate inside the zone that includes Southwest Florida. With each 100,000 new patients, a new company can jump in to operate dispensaries.

Legal challenges are expected that could change the framework that has been put in place.

The legislation severely limits the amount of regulations that counties and municipalities can place on the number of dispensaries, basically narrowing down the options to either banning them or treating them like any other store that distributes medication.

“What I have been told when I met with our community development staff is that it’s pretty much that same as a pharmacy would be,” said Pendergrass. “It would be modern and safe. It could be in a nice area and no one would even know it was there.”

The lack of local control was one of Collier Commissioner Burt Saunders main issues when he argued for extending the county’s moratorium through December on Tuesday.

“We need to have the ability to have control. Right now, we don’t have that ability,” Saunders said. “I want to send a message that we need to have a moratorium until we can get some better control measures from the legislatures. Not to ban them in perpetuity, but ban them until we can have control over the numbers.”

The Village of Estero passed its own year-long moratorium on dispensaries in December of last year.

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