The Bonita Springs City Council narrowly voted to end a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries on Wednesday. The 4-3 vote stopped the continuation of a temporary ban which the city has had on granting permits to dispensary facilities since June.
Florida voters supported a ballot initiative in 2016 to allow medical marijuana inside the state by over 70 percent, but many cities, like Bonita Springs, enacted moratoriums due to the restrictions placed on municipalities by legislators as to how dispensaries can be regulated.
The law requires that dispensary facilities must be treated like any other pharmacy and must be allowed to set up in any location that a normal pharmacy would be allowed, except for the additional restriction that they not be placed within 500 feet of a school. The only other option given to municipalities is that they ban dispensaries outright.
The decision would make Bonita Springs the first incorporated city in Southwest Florida to allow dispensaries to begin applying for permits. Fort Myers has approved a similar moratorium, but one company was already able to apply before its passage, so one facility may be allowed to open there. A Trulieve dispensary opened up in unincorporated North Fort Myers in November.
Council Member Peter O’Flinn told his colleagues that he had changed his vote after speaking with the community, and while he personally may have supported the moratorium, he felt compelled to side with the wishes of his constituents.
“I am going to vote no on this, and the reason is I have reached out to people in the interim, quite a few people,” said O’Flinn. “People with various views and various ways. I am of the view, based on that, that we should not continue with the moratorium.”
Council Member Amy Quaremba said that the body had never truly had a discussion about the actual issue of allowing dispensaries inside the city.
“We never really have discussed it, we really have kicked it down the road,” said Quaremba. “Every six months we just put the moratorium, but we never considered what we were doing.”
Those looking to immediately open a dispensary in Bonita Springs may still have another obstacle however. The council enacted a zoning in process restriction for 90 days on dispensaries during a special meeting on February 26. Council members directed City Attorney Audrey Vance not to further pursue the restriction, but it was unclear how quickly Bonita springs would be able to begins processing permits for new dispensaries.
© 2018 Naples Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.