Town Council slaps a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries

Jesse Hollett
Posted 10/19/16

ORANGE PARK -- The Orange Park Town Council unanimously voted Tuesday to place a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in the town two weeks before Florida voters have a say in the …

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Town Council slaps a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries

Posted

ORANGE PARK -- The Orange Park Town Council unanimously voted Tuesday to place a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in the town two weeks before Florida voters have a say in the matter.

The moratorium bars the placement of medical marijuana dispensaries for a 12 month period until the town can create zoning laws to regulate where the shops can and cannot go.

However, the effects of the new ordinance will be solely hypothetical unless amendment 2, the ballot initiative to expand the use of medical marijuana for, passes on Nov. 8.

Nevertheless, the town council’s decision comes from a platform of cautious tiptoeing around a topic the town could have to wrestle with should the ballot initiative receive the necessary 60 percent super majority.

“Without knowing what’s actually going to happen, we’re just being cautious so when it does happen we can react properly, I hope,” said Mayor Eugene Nix.

Once the town is able to sort through the minutia of how to zone the dispensaries, the moratorium can then be removed, allowing new storefronts and tax revenue to funnel into the town.

Because the moratorium only bars the placement of shops that sell the medicine. Those who can legally use the product, can within town limits. Some in the audience couldn’t understand the council’s hesitation in welcoming the storefronts.

“I can't even think of why you would think of putting a year moratorium on the development of this,” said Barbara Bujak of Orange Park. “If you want to be proactive, be proactive in deciding how to regulate this and get it in place so we can start being compassionate to those in need, because if the voters say yes to this, the voters want it.”

Other communities statewide have enacted similar ordinances temporarily banning dispensaries within their town limits. Sarasota County, Hillsborough County, Orange County and Orlando have all placed similar restrictions on storefronts. Miami-Dade County recently adopted an ordinance restricting dispensaries from opening near residential areas or within 1,000 feet of a school.

In Clay County Green Cove Springs has mulled over possibly enacting a similar ordinance.

For counties all over Florida, however, the possibility of putting real thought into how exactly to zone the dispensaries and treatment plants is a looming possibility. When amendment two landed on the ballot in 2014, 65 percent of Clay voters said yes to legalization.

The initiative narrowly missed the 60 percent supermajority needed by 2.38 percent of the vote. The moratorium ordinance is similar to the one passed by the town council two years ago, which dissipated after the ballot initiative was summarily rejected by voters.

Florida currently has legislature allowing the use of medicinal cannabis3x in certain circumstances, although critics have largely branded it ineffective. The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 currently allows limited low-THC cannabis use in the state of Florida. Under the law, medical marijuana is prescribed only in situations when two doctors deem a patient terminal.

After two years of litigation, Florida is just starting to see the first of these dispensaries open.

If amendment 2 passes, the umbrella of those eligible to use the medicine would expand to patients with debilitating medical conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and cancer.

Revisions to the amendment shot down in the voting booths from two years ago clarify language and ensure only licensed medical physicians can recommend the drug for use and specifies parental consent for a child to receive medical marijuana.

An April 8 CBS News poll found 87 percent of Americans support the use of small amounts of medical marijuana if prescribed by a doctor.

“This temporary moratorium is not in any way a ban or restricts anyone’s ability to lawfully use medical marijuana either in its current form as it’s allowed in the state or, in the event amendment 2 passes, whatever form that takes,” said Town Attorney Sam Garrison. “All this is is a temporary moratorium on licensed dispensing organizations within the Town of Orange Park until such time as our land development regulations are updated to include town and the town’s enforcement arm on where these businesses can setup shop.”

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