Medical marijuana may be legal in Florida, but it won’t be coming to Collier County any time soon.
Commissioners voted Tuesday to put a stop on any dispensaries for a one-year period, becoming the third local body in Southwest Florida to do so.
The Village of Estero placed a year-long ban on dispensaries in December, and in January Bonita Springs followed suit with one six months long.
In November, voters approved Amendment 2, which allows for the distribution and use of medical marijuana as a treatment for certain uses. Collier voters voted 64 percent in favor of the amendment.
But commissioners are still a little antsy, as state regulations are still in flux before the state’s Legislative Session begins in March.
“This is new to everyone. We’re in uncharted territory,” commissioner Andy Solis said. “Ultimately, were not going to know what we need to do, if anything until it’s all resolved with the legislature and Department of Health.”
Commissioners proposed the moratorium to allow county staff time to create a plan for how to regulate dispensaries. Mike Bosi, the county’s head of zoning, said it’s likely they could take a similar approach to how the county’s development code handle liquor stores, but limiting their proximity to schools, churches, or community facilities.
The original proposal was for six months, but commissioners eventually decided on a year to allow any potential changes or rules to come down from Tallahassee to play themselves out first. Any new legislation passed during session won’t take effect until July.
“We have to learn what we need to manage before we manage it, and we have to have the time to do that,” commissioner Donna Fiala said, who introduced the measure. “We can put together a plan except we don’t even know what they’re going to do. Until we know what they’re going to do it’s silly for us to make any plans. It’s putting the cart before the horse.”
TERM LIMITS PASSED
In other business, commissioners also voted to impose term limits, forbidding commissioners from serving more than three consecutive terms.
The only current member of the board that would be affected is Fiala, who is currently serving her fifth term. But Fiala’s prior terms would be exempted, as the limits take affect with November’s elections.
Commissioner Bill McDaniel made term limits a part of his campaign, and is who brought the item before the board.
“This was brought to me on a regular basis over the last 12-month adventure as I sought election, and I met with considerable public support along the way,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel said he chose three terms as it gave one term for new commissioners to learn the ropes of the office, then two more to govern with a full understanding of their responsibilities.
Serving more than three straight terms has been rare in Collier County. Fiala is one of three commissioners who have served more than three terms in a row since 1950, Tom Henning, from 2000 to 2016, and Clifford Wenzel, from 1966 to 1982, being the others.
“Commisioner Fiala is certainly an exception to the rule,” McDaniel said. “It was said to me quite regularly how wonderful of a leader [she] is.”
Fiala supported the limit, referring to the tendency of incumbents to enjoy electoral advantages by sheer inertia.
“Sometimes people will vote for the incumbent because they’re heard their name enough, but don’t know if whether that person has been a good governing person or not,” Fiala said.
Chairwoman Penny Taylor gave the only dissenting vote. Taylor previously served on the Naples City Council, which has similar limits on consecutive terms.
“When we limit the amount of time a commissioner can be voted into office we limit the people’s power to voice who they want,” Taylor said, adding that she worries that term limits will shift too much control to county staff. “Staff can be here for 30 years, or 25 years. They kind of hold all the goods in a way, they know how it’s run.”
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