On May 22 Flagler Beach amended its zoning rules to ensure that should medical marijuana become legal in Florida, it’ll have a hard time finding fertile ground for business in the city. Medical marijuana dispensaries will be prohibited in all zoning districts except “highway commercial.” In other words, they’ll be treated the way the city once zoned an infamous strip joint on the south side of town. Numerous other restrictions also apply. (See the full ordinance below.)
The ordinance may not be legal: if the proposed constitutional Amendment 2 that would legalize medical marijuana passes in November, it would also leave regulations in the hands of the Florida Department of Health, which may pre-empt local rules. “The Department shall issue reasonable regulations necessary for the implementation and enforcement” of the amendment, the proposal reads. “The purpose of the regulations is to ensure the availability and safe use of medical marijuana by qualifying patients.” If availability is too difficult, patients who qualify could sue governments making access too restrictive.
But the health department may also leave some rule-making to local governments. Many local governments, like Flagler Beach, aren’t waiting. Pierson, using Flagler Beach’s ordinance as an example, took up the issue earlier this month. So did Boynton Beach. Maitland, Orange County and Palmetto have all begun planning restrictive ordinances. The small community of Grant-Valkaria (a Brevard town slightly more populous than Bunnell) approved a restrictive ordinance last week. And Palm Coast, whose council discussed such an ordinance last month, did so again Tuesday, with restrictions in mind.
“Our office is continuing to work on some regulations, draft regulations, in anticipation that that may pass,” Bill Reischmann, the city’s attorney, told the council. “It’s kind of a moving target, if you will, and we want to make sure we give you various options of regulations, from a little to a lot, so you’ll have the ability to understand what’s available and what other folks may be doing.”
Bill McGuire, the closest thing the city has to a libertarian-minded conservative, alone has voiced some skepticism about developing an ordinance before the vote on the amendment, calling a move now “premature.”
“Other jurisdictions are taking action. What they’re doing is making it effective pending upon passage,” the attorney said.
The city was prompted to go toward pre-emptive regulations by Mayor Jon Netts, who first broached the matter on June 10.
“The issue that I have is essentially the same issues that we dealt with, with the so-called pill-mills,” Nettts said. “The state of Florida will determine if you’re going to be able to sell medical marijuana, how much, what kind, what flavor, so on and so on and so forth. I presume. My concern, as with the pill mills, is I don’t think these purveyors ought to be in close proximity to churches, to schools, parks, playgrounds, and they probably ought not be in residential neighborhoods.”
“Pill mills” as such are illegal. If Amendment 2 passes, medical marijuana will be legal.
In an interview later, Netts disputed the notion that he was comparing medical marijuana dispensaries to pill mills. “I’m not comparing it to pill mills art all, I’m comparing it to regulated areas of where it should be sold,” he said. “If you’re going to have recreational marijuana sold, it ought not to be in residential areas, but in commercial properties.”
Netts was under the impression that the Amendment would legalize recreational marijuana. It would not: the proposal is very strictly limited to medical marijuana. Patients would be eligible for medical marijuana only with a prescription from a doctor, and they would be required to have Health Department-issued ID cards and register at qualified “Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers.”
But Netts said the dispensaries would need to be zoned in commercial areas anyway. In the interview, he downplayed the significance of any proposed ordinance as anything more than an addition to the city’s regulations to specify where medical marijuana dispensaries would go. The specification is necessary, he said, because it’s not in the code now—as it is for most other types of businesses. Dispensaries would be a new kind of business. How that would make medical pot dispensaries’ zoning different from, say, drug stores, is unclear, especially as Netts said that given the amendment’s parameters on medical pot, “put it in a drug store then.”
Netts also addressed this week’s Quinnipiac poll, which found 88 percent of Floridians favioring legalization of medical marijuana. “It speaks for itself,” Netts said. “If the poll is accurate, the reality is that apparently a very large majority of Florida residents are in favor of some form of legalization of marijuana. If that’s what the people want, that’s what the people will get, I’m assuming.”
McGuire had brought up the poll’s results during the meeting.
“If the state determines that this is medicine, can you then say, well—you can’t say that you can’t have a drug store next to a school,” McGuire said.