As medical marijuana prepares to hit Florida in a big way, the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners is moving to implement a year-long moratorium on dispensaries opening here.
County commissioners took the first of two votes on Tuesday to implement the moratorium, which would be put in place so county staff can have the time to figure out where dispensaries will fit within the county’s zoning laws. Commissioners on Tuesday expressed concerns about dispensaries locating near schools and churches. Commissioners are scheduled to take the second of two votes on the matter in two weeks.
The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 legalized the use of non-euphoric medical marijuana to treat a handful of medical conditions, including epilepsy and cancer. A law passed last year expanded the number of eligible patients and opened the way for terminally-ill patients to access euphoric marijuana as well. Six nurseries have been approved by the state’s Department of Health to grow medical marijuana, and a seventh is awaiting a judge’s order on issuance of a license to grow.
An amendment on the November ballot would open up medical marijuana treatments to anyone with a debilitating medical condition as determined by a licensed physician. A similar amendment narrowly failed in 2014, but polls are projecting the new one will pass by a wide margin.
Taken together, those measures will likely mean an explosion of dispensaries opening around the state as early entrants to the market vie for footing. Like most Florida counties, Escambia County doesn’t have any rules on the books governing where dispensaries can operate. State statutes law allows counties to determine the number, location and other other permitting requirements for dispensaries, so long as those rules don’t interfere with state laws.
The moratorium being considered by county commissioners is designed to provide county staff the time to review where dispensaries should be allowed and to conduct public hearings on the issue. The moratorium would also allow any unanswered questions with regards to the state’s law to be taken up during next year’s legislative session.
Commission chairman Grover Robinson said he hoped to discuss the issue during the Florida Association of Counties legislative conference in December.
“I do expect us to have some kind of decision on this once we’ve have a chance to work with our sister counties across the state and maybe go through a legislative year next year,” he said. “And I think some time by the summer we might have some kind of an idea how we plan to implement, to understand the law; but at this particular time we really have no guidelines and that’s the reason for this moratorium.”
Commissioner Doug Underhill, however, questioned why a whole year was needed for the county to review an issue that’s been discussed around the state for years.
“It’s a little bit disappointing that this has been something that’s been very much in the public eye for a number of years in the state of Florida,” Underhill said. “We kind of knew something was coming down the pipes — there’s been an enormous amount of discussion about it — does the board and the county require a year to come to grips with what the new law means?”