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On Brink of Banning Medical Pot in Haze of Misinformation, County Opts for Compromise

| August 22, 2017

Commissioners Dave Sullivan, left, and Greg Hansen were looking to ban medical pot in unincorporated Flagler County. They failed. (© FlaglerLive)

Commissioners Dave Sullivan, left, and Greg Hansen were looking to ban medical pot in unincorporated Flagler County. They failed. (© FlaglerLive)

For a moment there Monday it looked like, against expectations, Flagler County would ban medical pot dispensaries.

Commissioner Dave Sullivan had spoken against allowing them. So had Greg Hansen. So had Charlie Ericksen, who said unequivocally, about an ordinance that would have permitted dispensaries: “I just can’t say yes to this ordinance at this time.”

Yet when Sullivan motioned to ban dispensaries outright and Hansen seconded, Ericksen somehow did not join them. The motion failed. Hansen then immediately moved to ask the county to follow Flagler Beach’s lead: draft an ordinance that allows medical pot dispensaries, but in fewer zoning districts than the version that was before commissioners on Monday. That motion passed unanimously.

But that also means that while Flagler could have been poised to be the first local government to open its zones to medical pot dispensaries, it is now going to extend its moratorium on such permits after all, to give the administration time to draft the new ordinance, advertise it, and run it through two readings over two weeks. That draft won’t be discussed at a workshop before early September. Palm Coast and Flagler Beach governments are doing likewise: they’re drafting ordinances that restrict dispensaries to zones where pharmacies are permitted, and in Palm Coast’s case, they’re zoning out currently pharmacy-ready zones to prevent dispensaries from going there. They can do so, because no pharmacies have yet set up shop in those zones. And none will in the future.

There are no pharmacies anywhere in unincorporated Flagler County, Adam Mengel, the county’s chief planner, confirmed, so in theory the county could leave just one zone open for dispensaries or pharmacies (instead of the four it was proposing Monday). But it’s more likely to still make two or three available. After losing the attempt to ban them outright, Hansen was concerned only with having dispensaries in any zone that also mixes in residential areas.

So what just last week had looked, from the perspective of County Administrator Craig Coffey and Commissioners Nate McLaughlin (the chairman) and Donald O’Brien like a routine zoning amendment to permit medical marijuana dispensaries, turned into a belabored battle that came close to a ban, and that devolved into what many discussions about pot by public officials often devolves into: baseless claims, assumptions, half-truths, weird analogies and outright falsehoods.

At one point Sullivan said that while more than 70 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize medical pot last November, “there are a lot of instances in history of the world where the majority of the people are in favor of going to war when they shouldn’t,” an incomprehensible analogy that put medical pot that he had himself acknowledged “does provide assistance” to people in pain on the same plane as the destructiveness of an armed conflict.

And Ericksen compared pot to “angel dust” while petulantly opposing what he inaccurately called “treatment centers.”

“I don’t like this, I don’t like them being called treatment centers for one bit,” Ericksen said. (They’re dispensaries that may only sell medical pot to patients with prescriptions from authorized physicians.)  “There’s no treatment here, there’s dispensing something like, it’s sort of like some of that angel dust that kids could buy in just a few months here.” (George Mayo, a resident attending the meeting, called out both Ericksen and Sullivan for their statements during the public comment period.)

Hansen and Sullivan in subsequent interviews said they didn’t want medical pot dispensaries because they don’t like the idea of pot making its way into the mainstream: Sullivan referred to “a slippery slope,” and Hansen spoke in similar terms: “I just don’t like it. To me it’s just a foot in the door to legalizing marijuana in the state of Florida, and I don’t want that,” he said. “I have seen how it ruins lives. I had to deal with it in the military. It ruined kids’ lives. I’m anti marijuana.”

Personal experience or opinions aside, neither had ready evidence to back up the claims.

Commissioners talked about another concern that, on its face, appeared to be backed by evidence: that cash-only dispensaries may be magnets for crime. But that, too, is more of an assumption based on anecdotal reporting than on actual studies.

Speaking to commissioners on behalf of Sheriff Rick Staly, the Sheriff’s Office’s Mark Strobridge said he does not want to impede anyone in receiving access to treatment, and that voters have spoken on the issue. The sheriff’s concern, Strobridge said, is for the safety of the operators of dispensaries and for that of patients purchasing marijuana, particularly because of the cash-only nature of the businesses. To buttress his point, Strobridge cited the headline of a Los Angels Times article from January: “Your business is legal, but you can’t use banks. Welcome to the cannabis all-cash nightmare.”

The “nightmare,” however, had more to do with the inconvenience of pot business owners’ inconvenience of having to safely stash immense sums of money in cash top run the business—payroll, paying suppliers and so on–before getting the rest deposited in banks (that part is legal). “This is the outrageous and untenable conflict imposed on legal businesses by the federal government’s continuing obstinacy about cannabis,” the article stated.

The crime issue was reported on as well, but it referred only to one actual case, from 2012, when a dispensary owner was kidnapped and tortured for his cash, with more general claims, unsupported in the article, that “many cannabis growers have been ripped off in less spectacular fashion, or are afraid they will be.” The article quotes an attorney for a pot association referring to “news headlines” that include “multiple accounts” of armed robberies at dispensaries.

In fact, the linked evidence points to just one such robbery, reported in an another L.A. Times article with a click-bait headline about pot businesses being “prime targets for violent robberies.” But the article refers to not a single set of statistics, no crime data, no studies. Instead, it referred to three incidents in California, one in Colorado, one in Washington—hardly the sort of evidence that adds up to a trend—and conceded: “Crime statistics concerning legal dispensaries are hard to come by as the industry expands, and, understandably, operators are reluctant to talk about how much cash they can have on hand.”

Opponents of medical pot’s expansion have claimed that Colorado, after legalizing recreational pot, has seen a spike in crime as a result. The spike is accurate: violent crime, led especially by an increase in murders in Denver, rape and car thefts, have increased. The linkage is an assumption, however, not shown by reliable data to point to pot dispensaries, and in Washington State, which also legalized recreational pot, violent crime went down, substantially so.

Medical pot is legal in 29 states, crime over the past many years has been on a downward trend (years paralleling the legalization of medical pot), and remains at or near a 20-year low despite last year’s uptick.

None of that evidence was presented at Monday’s meeting, where commissioners’ opposition was limited to personal conclusions. Sullivan said he wasn’t “convinced it’s the right thing to do,” but never said why. “I lost my son” to marijuana, Ericksen said at one point, though in a subsequent interview he said: “I didn’t mean he died, I lost contact with him.” He did so because he got tired of bailing him out of jail for drunk driving and marijuana arrests, neither of which have any relation to the medical pot debate. (Ericksen said he voted against the ban in the end because he thought the county would work on a compromise, though he also conceded: “I get a little confused during those meetings, and that’s part of it.”)

To Commissioner Donald O’Brien, who’d been uncomfortable with so much as a moratorium, it was time to look at it from a realistic perspective. “It’s going to happen all around us whether we like it or not,” O’Brien said. “The time if you wanted to stop the legalization from moving forward is well passed.”

McLaughlin said the people have spoken, and “the country as a whole is speaking on this topic.” He continued: “Personally I hope I don’t have any need for any of these medications and I would hope that nobody would. But from where I sit it’s an opportunity for doctors to look at their patients and say, there’s herbalists everywhere, different plants do different things and this plant does something different, and I get that. I don’t myself want to stand between a doctor and a patient on any issue. Those are private matters. I think the people have recognized that and expressed that in their vote.”


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14 Responses for “On Brink of Banning Medical Pot in Haze of Misinformation, County Opts for Compromise”

  1. South Florida says:

    Better to have dispensaries rather than pill heads.

  2. Robert Lewis says:

    Certainly Flagler is a very forward-thinking community,” McLaughlin said, reflecting on the county opening the way first. “I don’t think that’s our intent but it seems to happen that way.”

    So much for this bold forward thinking that Commissioner McLaughin portrayed last week as he stuck his proverbial foot right into his mouth. County Commissioners playing king makers and vote counters proved he isn’t so forward thinking.

  3. Brian Kelly says:

    It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-medical marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

    Politicians who continue to demonize Medical Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days Are In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Medical Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    Legalize Medical Marijuana Nationwide!

  4. JimBob says:

    Legalize medical and recreational and the cartels are out of business. But big Pharma, big lIquor, and private prisons are more important!

  5. ConstantlyAmazed says:

    Can medical marijuana be used for ANGER MANAGEMENT? If it can it sounds like Brian Kelly says could benefit from it.

  6. Wow Crazy says:

    Obviously these folks have not done any research on this low THC Hemp that is approved for consumption.This is a drug that is very useful with conditions. What right do you people have to play God for someone who may benefit from it. So many of the drugs that are legal come also from plants and are killing people legally. More people die each year from caffeine overdose than marijuana so open another Starbucks instead.

  7. r&r says:

    This should attract more people to Flagler County much like we already have such as criminals, druggies, molesters, etc. etc. etc.

  8. Roberta Richardson says:

    Brian Kelly I totally agree with you!

  9. Downtown says:

    The people have spoken and they want medical pot. When members of city councils and county board members drag their feet and place restraints on the people’s desires by slowing or preventing clinics from opening they are going against the wishes of the public. They are committing political suicide and will not be elected to public office again. It makes no difference what they think about the issue. The people have spoken and they have only one choice and that is to quickly do what is necessary to get these clinics opened

  10. Knightwatch says:

    These are left-over RRR Assembly radical Republicans. They care nothing for our citizens, only for their far-right beliefs. Vote them out in 2018.

  11. john dolan says:

    I agree 100% Brian Kelly, you nailed it.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Funny how the city of Palm Coast has no issues about pharmacies dispensing pain medications that actually causes addiction and over doses. That’s right… Put in a few medical marijuana dispensaries for people with cancer and pain and all hell will break loose… Crime will increase, people will die left and right. All of a sudden this perfect town will become the worst part of Detroit and the good name of Palm Coast will be ruined. All because it started out with an old person getting an edible from a dispensary.

  13. MannyHM says:

    Responsible use of medical marijuana eases the agony of chronic pain due to age and past injuries. Count cancer and the effects of treatment to that. Marijuana lessens the need for more narcotics, a big concern during this opioid epidemic. I like to present the 3 Cs of Compassion, Common sense, and Compromise.

  14. MannyHM says:

    May I add that you (those who oppose it) might need medical marijuana someday the same way that you would need morphine in the event of a heart attack.

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