Cities keep ban on weed shops

Com­mu­ni­ties make tem­po­rary dis­pen­sary re­stric­tions per­ma­nent

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Anne Geg­gis

Nearly two years af­ter Florida vot­ers over­whelm­ingly ap­proved med­i­cal mar­i­juana, some cities’ tem­po­rary stops to pot busi­nesses have turned into out­right bans.

Tem­po­rary bans in Boca Ra­ton, Co­ral Springs, Mar­gate, Ta­ma­rac and Pem­broke Pines have be­come per­ma­nent, ef­fec­tively keep­ing pot shops out of cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties and draw­ing con­cerns from med­i­cal mar­i­juana’s pro­po­nents. They join at least seven other South Florida cities with bans.

Ben­jamin Pol­lara, who was a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant in the 2014 and 2016 ref­er­en­dums to al­low med­i­cal mar­i­juana, said that city gov­ern­ments are sub­vert­ing the will of the peo­ple. More than 70 per­cent of Florida vot­ers in 2016 agreed that med­i­cal pa­tients with cer­tain types of ill­nesses should have ac­cess to med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

“You’ve got the big­gest pop­u­la­tion cen­ter in the state and pa­tient ac­cess [to med­i­cal mar­i­juana] has been se­ri­ously lim­ited, by these lo­cal gov­ern­ments pass­ing bans and I think it’s really shame­ful,” Pol­lara said.

State rules adopted in 2017 left cities with two op­tions: Ban dis­pen­saries out­right, or reg­u­late their lo­ca­tions to the same de­gree that phar­ma­cies are reg­u­lated, which in most cases means al­low-

ing them in all com­mer­cial dis­tricts. The only re­stric­tion is that they must be at least 500 feet from a pub­lic or pri­vate school.

In ad­di­tion to the places where tem­po­rary bans have be­come per­ma­nent, other cities that ban them are Del­ray Beach, High­land Beach, Hills­boro Beach, Laud­erdale-bythe-Sea, Royal Palm Beach, Sea Ranch Lakes and South­west Ranches.

Of the 64 dis­pen­saries in Florida, 11 have opened across South Florida, with three in Broward County, three in Palm Beach County and five in Mi­ami-Dade County, ac­cord­ing to the state Health De­part­ment records.

Even Lake Worth, the first South Florida city to have a dis­pen­sary, is rolling up the wel­come mat — not want­ing to at­tract more than its fair share. The city so far has two dis­pen­saries and last month voted to ban any ad­di­tional ones from open­ing.

“The state didn’t put the right reg­u­la­tions in place,” said Lake Worth Mayor Pam Tri­olo, say­ing that per­haps Lake Worth al­lowed them too quickly. “It put us in a very tricky predica­ment.”

Nearly two years since vot­ers said they wanted med­i­cal mar­i­juana, some cities have just re­cently started mov­ing to­ward al­low­ing dis­pen­saries or tip­toe­ing to­ward more con­ver­sa­tions about whether to al­low them.

— Sun­rise in Au­gust voted to al­low them, af­ter ap­prov­ing nu­mer­ous 120-day mora­to­ri­ums that were ex­tended again and again.

— Hol­ly­wood City Com­mis­sion last month unan­i­mously agreed to al­low them af­ter an ini­tial re­view. The fi­nal ap­proval is ex­pected soon.

— Boca Ra­ton’s lead­ers agreed on Mon­day to hold an­other work­shop on the is­sue in the com­ing months.

City lead­ers have com­plained they’ve had lim­ited op­tions af­ter the Leg­is­la­ture passed guide­lines for pot shops.

“This is a prime ex­am­ple of how home rule is taken away,” said Hol­ly­wood Com­mis­sioner Traci Cal­lari. “Once you open the door to one, you open the door to many. The last thing we need in Hol­ly­wood is a med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary on ev­ery cor­ner in Hol­ly­wood.”

Also, some cities have ar­gued that peo­ple can take de­liv­ery if they need the medicine. Un­der that rea­son­ing, dis­pen­saries shouldn’t open in ev­ery town.

Be­cause fed­eral reg­u­la­tions still con­sider mar­i­juana il­le­gal, bank­ing and credit cards can’t be in­volved. Med­i­cal mar­i­juana is a cash-only busi­ness, which is widely re­garded as a mag­net for crime.

But au­thor­i­ties say there haven’t been prob­lems in some com­mu­ni­ties where they’ve opened. Sher­iff’s Of­fice Lake Worth Dis­trict Capt. Todd Baer said that there have been no crimes re­ported at Lake Worth’s two dis­pen­saries. And there only have been three or four calls for ser­vice be­cause of re­ports of sus­pi­cious peo­ple.

“Most of my fears have been al­layed,” Baer told city lead­ers. “The only fear I have is rob­bery be­cause it’s a cash busi­ness … Both [dis­pen­saries] run a very pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Mar­gate City Com­mis­sioner Lesa “Le” Peer­man is pre­dict­ing that state rules even­tu­ally will broaden mar­i­juana’s le­gal­ity to ren­der the dis­pen­sary bans moot.

She be­longs to a Florida League of Cities Com­mit­tee, which is back­ing leg­is­la­tion that would give cities more reg­u­la­tion over pot shops. That would give cities more lat­i­tude than the two cur­rent op­tions, to ban them or reg­u­late them no more than reg­u­lar com­mer­cial phar­ma­cies such CVS and Wal­greens.

Pol­lara, the lob­by­ist, agrees with Peer­man. More bills are in the works.

“We should go back to the pre­vi­ous sce­nario, where cities could not ban dis­pen­saries out­right but re­strict them in ways that make sense for that city,” he said.

Deer­field Beach Com­mis­sioner Todd Drosky said he’s al­ready hear­ing from his con­stituents un­cer­tain about a third dis­pen­sary that’s in the pipeline to open in his city. Deer­field em­braced dis­pen­saries, re­fus­ing to make its ini­tial ban on them per­ma­nent, in spite of some ask­ing city lead­ers to wait and see.

The dis­pen­saries, he said, “have only opened re­cently — so I’m not ready to play judge and jury yet.”

ageg­gis@sun­sen­tinel.com, 561-243-6624, or @An­neBoca.

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