Ad­vo­cates cry and cheer

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Steven Le­mon­gello Staff Writer

as the Or­ange County Com­mis­sion unan­i­mously votes to ap­prove med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries in the county.

Ad­vo­cates cried and cheered as Or­ange County com­mis­sion­ers unan­i­mously voted to al­low med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries in the county at their meet­ing Tues­day night.

The vote halts the tide of Cen­tral Florida cities — in­clud­ing sev­eral in Or­ange County — that have banned dis­pen­saries be­cause of the re­stric­tions placed upon them by the Florida Leg­is­la­ture.

In what Mayor Teresa Ja­cobs called a “poi­son pill,” the Leg­is­la­ture passed a law al­low­ing dis­pen­saries but also man­dated that cities and coun­ties couldn’t reg­u­late them any more than phar­ma­cies. The con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sion came even though more than 70 per­cent of Florida vot­ers ap­proved med­i­cal mar­i­juana in a Novem­ber 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

But de­spite those con­cerns, com­mis­sion­ers said they didn’t want to go against the wishes of the peo­ple of Florida. More than two dozen gave emo­tional tes­ti­mony in fa­vor of ap­proval. “I made my mind up on this two years ago,” said Com­mis­sioner Jennifer Thomp­son, who got emo­tional talk­ing about her hus­band’s health is­sues. “This is an easy de­ci­sion for me. You see how per­sonal it is.”

Many speak­ers — all of whom backed al­low­ing dis­pen­saries — had been wor­ried the board would back the other or­di­nance be­ing con­sid­ered, which would have banned dis­pen­saries across un­in­cor­po­rated parts of the county. They took out their frus­tra­tions on the board af­ter a string of bans by cities in­clud­ing Win­ter Park, Win­ter Gar­den and Apopka.

But sev­eral started to tear up when Com­mis­sioner Pete Clarke made a mo­tion to vote on the or­di­nance and al­low dis­pen­saries in­stead. “Zero peo­ple showed up tonight to tell us not to do it,” he said. “Some of you chewed us out for no rea­son, but we’re go­ing to vote yes any­way.”

Med­i­cal mar­i­juana, he said, “is the law of the land, the law of the state of Florida. To not im­ple­ment a law passed by the vot­ers goes against ev­ery­thing I’ve grown up be­ing taught.”

Ja­cobs agreed, say­ing: “I un­der­stand how im­por­tant this de­ci­sion is. Even if you don’t un­der­stand the de­ci­sion the pub­lic makes, it’s im­por­tant to re­spect them.”

Com­mis­sioner Vic­to­ria Si­plin said one precinct in her district voted 100 per­cent for the ref­er­en­dum last year.

Com­mis­sioner Betsy Van­derLey

raised the most con­cerns over the or­di­nance, ques­tion­ing what al­low­ing dis­pen­saries in the tourism cor­ri­dor would do to Or­ange’s “fam­ily-friendly” rep­u­ta­tion.

But Com­mis­sioner Emily Bonilla called the neg­a­tive feel­ings about med­i­cal mar­i­juana “a stigma.”

“If you make a de­ci­sion based on a stigma and not some­thing fac­tual, that’s not do­ing the right thing,” she said.

Af­ter­ward, ad­vo­cates said they are op­ti­mistic that dis­pen­saries be­ing al­lowed in one of Florida’s big­gest coun­ties would in­flu­ence other cities and coun­ties.

“I work in pol­i­tics, and ev­ery­thing runs through the I-4 cor­ri­dor,” said Kirk Root, sec­re­tary of the Or­ange County Demo­cratic Dis­abil­i­ties Cau­cus, who spoke about med­i­cal mar­i­juana’s uses for peo­ple with cere­bral palsy like him­self. “For Or­ange County to vote in fa­vor, that bodes well for other coun­ties.”

The or­di­nance would take ef­fect Jan. 1.

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