Medical marijuana centers ordinance approved

Jesse Hollett
Posted 10/4/17

ORANGE PARK – The Town of Orange Park has become the first municipality in Clay County to allow Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers.

The change comes after council members voted 3-2 Tuesday to …

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Medical marijuana centers ordinance approved

Posted

ORANGE PARK – The Town of Orange Park has become the first municipality in Clay County to allow Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers.

The change comes after council members voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an ordinance after almost a year of intermittent debate on the topic.

The new ordinance provides for pharmacies and MMTCs to locate in the commercial intensive, commercial general and planned unit development zoning districts.

Under state law, MMTCs cannot be placed within 500 feet of a primary or secondary school and cannot be zoned differently than pharmacies with zoning.

To give the council more say in where MMTCs can locate, the ordinance ensures pharmacies must maintain a 500-foot buffer zone between other pharmacies. This comes with the caveat of providing a pathway for variances from this rule to avoid costly litigation over the ordinance.

The 500-foot buffer zone is a similar tactic employed by the town council for gas stations. The original idea for that buffer zone was to avoid the town becoming a pass-through diesel highway.

Commercial general storefronts mainly include roadside businesses along Park Avenue from Loring Avenue to Kingsley Avenue and from Kingsley Avenue to Doctors Lake Drive. Commercial intensive zoning districts generally cluster together near the north end of Orange Park.

The town does not track occupied storefronts by zoning category, so it is difficult to ascertain exactly how much available space for an MMTC exists in the densely populated town.

The ordinance was accompanied by anxiety on part of Council Member Ron Raymond, who has said he voted for Amendment 2, the 2016 state Constitutional amendment that permits the use of medical cannabis.

“I believe that our town is too small,” Raymond said. “I believe that the surrounding municipalities and political subdivisions have decided to try to kick the ball down the road…An ordinance that prohibits can always be changed, but an ordinance that allows cannot be changed…We have way more questions about this than I’m comfortable with…we really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The ordinance’s passage comes as the city of Green Cove Springs in August extended a one-year moratorium on MMTCs and before the Board of County Commissioners and the City of Keystone Heights discussed the subject in their chambers.

The BCC placed a one-year temporary moratorium on MMTCs last January. That moratorium is set to expire after January. County Attorney Courtney Grimm said commissioners have yet to provide direction to staff on what they would like researched on the topic.

Commissioners could either choose to outsource most of the discussion to staff or a board and await a report and recommendation, or take the conversation up themselves.

“The board will be considering it prior to that time,” Grimm said. “I’m sure it’ll be coming up soon, especially now that Orange Park has passed it…I’m sure that they’ll be talking about it in the next few months.

Some council members expressed worries that the town would become the sole municipality in the county that provided for MMTCs in its code. That reality has yet to materialize, but the topic is being debated county-wide.

“We’re currently still under a moratorium,” said Scott Kornegay, Keystone Heights city manager. “I attended, along with the city clerk, a symposium at the Florida League of Cities last month and we are in the process of putting together an analysis for the city council and we hope to make a decision in the next probably three months on how to move forward.”

The Town of Orange Park’s moratorium expired Oct. 1, two days before council passed the ordinance. As the time comes for other municipalities to have the discussion regarding MMTCs after moratoriums expire, municipalities will inevitably have to make the decision on whether to allow or ban dispensaries completely, under the state rules passed in the 2017 Florida Legislature.

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