The Bonita Springs City Council put medical marijuana on hold, voting to extend a moratorium on distribution centers during its meeting on Wednesday.
The issue motivating the ban for most of the council seemed to be the state law limiting the amount of regulation local municipalities can exercise on distribution centers. State Senator Kathleen Passidomo, who addressed the council on a number of legislative issues before the vote, explained that the state law basically offered the city only two options; ban the dispensaries outright, or treat them like any other pharmacy.
City Attorney Audrey Vance told the council that they needed to review their pharmacy regulations before allowing dispensaries because the rules as they are currently written could cause zoning issues as well as possibly interfere with other business.
“We have pharmacies in industrial sites, in residential, in planned developments and of course commercial,” said Vance. “We either need to tighten our regulations on pharmacy, and that might be the way to go because everyone thinks that a pharmacy is CVS or Walgreens, but it’s not. It’s more inclusive than that.”
However, Vance also advised caution in how restrictions were written and applied because common retail stores like Publix, Wal-Mart, and Target can function as pharmacies.
As it is currently written, the state law allows 425 dispensaries to operate inside of Florida. It divides the state into five zones and apportions each of them a number of allowed dispensary locations based on population. While expressing support for the measure that extends the moratorium until March 2, 2018, Council Member Amy Quaremba urged the city to solve its regulatory issues as fast as possible to avoid having its citizens left without a local dispensary.
“I have some concern about this continued moratorium and taking too much time to decide if we want them,” said Quaremba. “I think we should expedite and clarify whether we would for having one of these retail establishments in Bonita Springs.”
Members of city staff reminded Quaremba that nothing barred Bonita residence from filling marijuana prescriptions at dispensaries outside the city limits, but acknowledged that waiting too long could cost the city the chance to have a distribution center locally.
Despite, a bit ironically, forgetting to formally vote on the approval of the moratorium after discussion, the council was reminded by staff and did eventually approve the measure unanimously.
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