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Sarasota Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019 2 months ago

Sarasota leaders question safety, future of medical marijuana dispensaries

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As another proposal works its way through the County Commission, commissioners question the future effects of dispensaries.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

With the request for another medical marijuana dispensary making its way toward the County Commission, county leaders are questioning the long-term futures of such businesses.

As of July 10, three dispensary proposals have been approved by commissioners. If the proposal by Knox Medical, which is rebranding as Fluent, is approved, the newest dispensary would be located at 2864 Clark Road. It was approved this month by the county’s Planning Board and will be further considered by commissioners before a final vote.

In the past, commissioners Michael Moran and Christian Ziegler have questioned the security of such dispensaries and their ability to pivot their business and sell recreational marijuana in the event Florida legalizes it.

A sign on the proposed site at 2864 Clark Road announces the intent for the property.

“I have a lot of concerns with supporting the start or the expansion to recreational marijuana,” Ziegler said. “What I don’t want to do is approve all these medical shops that come before us, and they go through the dog-and-pony show and say, ‘Hey, we want a medical marijuana shop,’ and that’s what we approve. And then all of sudden, overnight, they become recreational.”

Brian Licterman, president of Vision Planning & Design and the agent for the Knox Medical request, said at least in the case of Knox, that would not be allowed because Knox Medical is applying for a special-exception permit.

“The special-exception permit specifically limits [the dispensary] to selling only medicinal marijuana,” Licterman said. “If it did get approved by the state of Florida, owners would then have to come back and get an amendment on the special exception to be able to sell recreational marijuana at this location.”

Other dispensaries function on similar permits, and in Sarasota County, medical marijuana dispensaries are permitted as special exceptions in one of two zoning districts: commercial general or office as well as professional and institutional. This means that there are strict guidelines on where a dispensary can be placed and what it can sell.

County regulations mandate that a dispensary cannot be within 500 feet of an existing school, day care, house of worship, public park or public beach. Additionally, drive-thru services, loitering and alcoholic beverages are not allowed on the premises.

Finally, other products or paraphernalia are not allowed to be sold at the facilities. Dispensaries may only operate between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays, and they must be closed Sundays.

That still leaves the question of safety.

Although County Commissioner Alan Maio voted to approve previous dispensaries, he said he still has concerns about them.

“I’m just uncomfortable with the whole thing,” Maio said. “I voted for the first two because that’s what people wanted. But they need to have the security measures they say they will.”

Attorney Azlina Goldstein-Siegel said each Knox facility functions as an all-cash business and is secured with an alarm system. Members also have a protocol where if marijuana is accidentally spilled or rendered otherwise unusable, it must be cleaned up, bagged and returned to the state’s Department of Health to ensure all stock is accounted for.

“Everything is strictly enforced by the Department of Health to show that if it’s not in a patient, it’s going to be with the Department of Health because it’s been lost,” Goldstein-Siegel said. “We are very mindful of the ‘from seed to sale’ concept. And [in] enforcing that, there’s going to be security.”

In addition to the protocols, Licterman said each facility will have armed security guards throughout working hours.

“I believe that any of these would be safer than any bank that you would go into,” Licterman said. “You can walk into any bank in this country, but you can’t get into this facility unless you have a prescription as well as a card from the state of Florida.”

Even still, Commissioner Nancy Detert suggested leaders monitor dispensaries that are approved to “make sure they’re doing what they said they’re going to do.”

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