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Bunnell, Citing Iffy Crime Figures, Will Be Holdout Against Medical Pot Dispensaries

| August 29, 2017

The Bunnell City Commission as it discussed a ban on medical pot dispensaries Monday. (© FlaglerLive)

The Bunnell City Commission as it discussed a ban on medical pot dispensaries Monday. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County has yet to see its first medical marijuana dispensary. But local governments have been drafting ordinances to comply with Amendment 2, the constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana. Along the way, elected officials have discussed policy regarding dispensaries often on a basis of wild assumptions, mis-characterizations and largely anecdotal or dubious evidence.


Flagler Beach and Flagler County officials almost banned dispensaries on the basis of such unsupported claims about crime or vaguer fears before pulling back toward more permissive compromises. Bunnell on Monday opted to ban dispensaries outright however, again mostly on the basis of vague generalities and unverified information about crime, and it appears uninterested in debating the matter or looking at a compromise, even as its officials claim to be “not against” medical marijuana.

In that sense, officials may be echoing Bunnell resident’s indifference to the issue: whereas Flagler Beach’s proposed ban drew dozens of angry residents to City Hall–a turnout that in the end swayed city commissioners toward a compromise–the Bunnell commission discussed its proposed ban during a workshop Monday before a largely empty chamber.

The Florida Legislature gives local governments two options regarding medical pot dispensaries. They may either ban them outright. Or they must allow them the same way they would pharmacies–without limits or restrictions on how those businesses may operate beyond what local code enforcement, building and fire codes already require of pharmacies.

City Manager Dan Davis recommended to the commission that it adopts an outright ban.

“This is not something that we want to recommend for the city of Bunnell right now,” Davis said. “We’re not against medical marijuana, we want the citizens of Bunnell who have a need for it to get to it, and we feel they will.”

He gave commissioners two reasons for the ban, one of them entirely accurate: given that every local government around Bunnell is moving toward allowing dispensaries, Bunnell residents will have access. He said if surrounding communities had banned it, maybe Bunnell could have adopted a more permissive approach. But that, he says, is unnecessary right now.

He then gave his second reason: “We feel that we’re just asking for crime to happen in the city of Bunnell when you have that much cash in one location,” Davis said.

Dispensaries are largely cash-only businesses–not because it’s against the law to use credit cards at dispensaries, but because most banks for now are deciding against it for fear that they may be vulnerable to prosecution under federal money-laundering laws. (The Obama administration had signaled that it was not going to prosecute medical marijuana sellers or users under federal law, but Jeff Sessions, the current attorney general, has sent mixed signals on the issue.)

Davis said Bunnell Police Chief Tom Foster is also opposed to allowing dispensaries in town. Bunnell City Commissioner John Sowell said he provided Davis with various articles referring to the crime that dispensaries attract. He spoke to commissioners about one of those articles, claiming it had documented 319 “armed robberies or burglaries” affecting 325 dispensaries in Colorado alone, in a single year. He also said that Florida is behind in properly measuring marijuana impairment in drivers. For those reasons, he said, he was supportive of an outright ban.

“Ditto,” went Commissioner Elbert Tucker.

“Ditto,” went Commissioner Bill Baxley.

Commissioner John Sowell is skeptical. (© FlaglerLive)

Commissioner John Sowell.
(© FlaglerLive)

That was it as far as a discussion on the issue, aside from Mayor Catherine Robinson wanting to be sure that the city could change course any time in the future, and the commission’s attorney noting that the legislation controlling dispensaries is far from settled. It’s being litigated, and lawmakers have signaled they intend to make changes to the law. But Bunnell will be adopting a ban at its Sept. 11 meeting.

After the meeting, Sowell provided a reporter the article he was referring to, and quickly acknowledged that he had misstated the facts: the number of armed robberies and burglaries he cited had taken place over two years.

That was not the only problem with the NBC News article, titled “Robber Gangs Terrorize Colorado Pot Shops.”

The article made no mention of “armed robberies,” as Sowell had put it during the meeting. It referred to “about 317 burglaries and seven robberies” at “325 marijuana companies in Denver,” without defining what it meant by “companies.” NBC attributed the information to “police data,” without linking to that data, and in the next paragraph reported: “While a Denver Police spokesperson disputed these figures, the department doesn’t have its own,” even though it had just attributed its own number to “police data.” It did not provide an actual span of time that the reported numbers covered. And the article is three and a half years old.

Sowell said he believed in the number because he said NBC News is a reputable source. But the reporting method indicated in the article would not be considered “reputable” or verified by most editors.

While numerous articles have been written on crime at or around dispensaries and other marijuana businesses, the articles have lacked the sort of comprehensive numbers that would show solid trends one way or the other, context for the cited crime–the sort of context that the NBC article did provide when it had the numbers (for 2009), though the numbers went against its headline’s point: ” In 2009, the Denver Police Department estimated that about 17 percent of marijuana retail shops had been robbed or burglarized in the last year. That was good news: a bit less than liquor stores (20 percent) and banks (34 percent), and on par with pharmacies.”

In time, similar comparative numbers will become available from various states as medical or recreational pot businesses become more established and may well provide a clearer and possibly alarming picture. But that evidence, for now, is lacking, reducing officials and decision-makers to citing headlines more sensational in tone than justified by the evidence.

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9 Responses for “Bunnell, Citing Iffy Crime Figures, Will Be Holdout Against Medical Pot Dispensaries”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    These ditto head idiots balk at the fact they don’t have money, then go out of their way to stop money from coming to town. Don’t they listen to Commissioner MacLaughin, they are forward thinking peoples. They just need to recall this group of dittohead rejects. Bunnell government is the biggest waste of money starting with this do nothing useless joke of a council.

  2. DRedder says:

    Not for nothing but if it’s Medical Marijuana and solely for medicinal use, why the need for these controversial dispensary’s?
    If it requires a prescription then what’s wrong with every current pharmacy operating in the County now. Really is this not the place everyone goes to obtain thier legal controll substances/ meds?

  3. Seminole 36 says:

    No pharmacy will get involved a business that cannot have its receipts (monies received) deposited in a bank account, due to Federal regulations on the banking industry. Therefore, marijuana dispensaries will be independent operations from standard pharmaceutical firms. This is also the reason it will be a cash only type of business. In fact, anyone contributing to the end product that gets sold in a dispensary is considered a Marijuana Related Business (MRB) and could be found liable to be charged with money laundering if their cash is deposited in a bank.

  4. New Yorker 13 says:

    Keep on listening or reading the fake news . I guess Chief Foster and his officers would have to work instead of parking along side each other to chit chat.

  5. Sw says:

    Ironic to the max lol

  6. Dave says:

    Get with it bunnell! You have many sick people without transportation that are struggling,don’t make them suffer more by getting to a different city just for their meds!!
    Marijuana is illegal federally therefore it can not be regulated by the FDA and can not dispensed in pharmacies.

  7. Peaches McGee says:

    Until Bunnell decides to wake up and live in the 21st century all hope is lost for continued growth and prosperity.

  8. thomas says:

    I admire Bunnell’s stand. They are putting the welfare of their citizens first.
    The other jurisdictions value money above all else.

  9. Dave says:

    Wrong Thomas, they have done just the opposite, they have but the well being of sick children and adults second to that of false reports and skepticism. Shame!

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