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Sarasota Monday, Jul. 3, 2017 7 months ago

City Commission to consider marijuana dispensary ban

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After the state passed legislation regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, the city attorney recommends staying out of the weed business — for now, at least.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

At a meeting tonight, the City Commission will consider banning the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits.

The agenda item is a response to the state Legislature passing a bill last month to codify the voter-backed constitutional amendment expanding the legalization of medical marijuana. In October, the city established a nine-month moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries and treatment facilities, designed to give city staff time to implement new regulations.

The state law gives cities two options for regulating dispensaries, according to a June memo from City Attorney Robert Fournier. Cities can ban dispensaries altogether, or establish regulations that are no more restrictive than the regulations governing pharmacies.

During previous discussions, the commission has expressed a desire to prohibit the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries in commercial areas such as downtown. The city originally prepared regulations that would allow dispensaries to operate in office and industrial districts, Fournier said.

Because the city allows pharmacies downtown, on St. Armands Circle, in Newtown and other commercial districts, Fournier now suggests banning dispensaries altogether would be most consistent with the commission’s previous desires.

“You look at the regulations for pharmacies, and they’re allowed in lots and lots of places where (commissioners) previously said they didn’t think dispensaries are appropriate,” Fournier said.

The commission could divert from its previous discussions and opt to allow the operation of dispensaries. However, because the city’s moratorium on dispensaries expires later this month — and because the city would have to hold three public hearings before implementing new regulations governing those businesses — Fournier is recommending the city at least temporarily adopt the ban, for procedural reasons.

“That’s the only option we really have at the present time,” Fournier said.

Fournier said he will present a few options for commissioners to consider. The board could permit the operation of dispensaries after a short-term ban, or it could implement a longer ban and wait to see if the Legislature will adjust its regulations in the future. The commission could also direct staff to investigate options for adjusting the city code to more tightly regulate dispensaries.

Fournier said he’s heard concerns from residents who object to the idea of the city restricting medical marijuana distribution after voters approved Amendment 2 in November. Still, he said, he believes it’s reasonable to have some questions about the city’s ability to effectively regulate a new industry on a wide scale.

“I’d like to think they could be operated lawfully, but who knows?” Fournier said.  

The full agenda for Monday’s City Commission meeting can be found on the city’s website.

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