Seeking state guidance, Fort Myers passes six-month marijuana ban

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The Fort Myers City Council narrowly voted to enact a 6-month ban on medical marijuana dispensaries on Tuesday.

Despite the temporary ban, Mayor Randall Henderson went out of his way to explain that the council had no plans to ban medical marijuana long term, but intended to use the six months provided by the ordinance to make sure the city was in compliance with state law once dispensaries began to open.

“The citizens of Fort Myers, and Lee County, and Florida overwhelmingly supported this,” said Henderson. “We are cognizant of that, respect it, and support it as such.”

Regulations governing medical marijuana were set in place during a special legislative session back in June, but they limit the amount of flexibility local governments have to determine how dispensaries are allowed to operate in their area. Cities and counties are required to either ban dispensaries outright, or treat them like any local pharmacy, with no additional regulations or restrictions.

Many government bodies in Southwest Florida have passed similar bans, hoping that state legislators would use the current session to clarify the role local governments would play in controlling the location and operation of dispensaries in their neighborhoods.

The ban may well be removed before its July sunset date according to City Manager Saeed Kazemi. While the ban is intended to hold off approving dispensaries until all relevant legislation is on the table, Kazemi agreed with other council members that it seemed unlikely that state lawmakers were going to further address the issue this session. He said that if no new legislation came out of session in March, then the city would be ready to move forward with reopening the dispensary permitting process well ahead of July.

“If nothing happens in those three months, we will get this thing done,” said Kazemi. “We are already started preparing it, we are just trying to see what other law is going to go in there that we are going to [need] to prepare for.”

Council Member Michael Flanders said that if it was unlikely that state legislators were going to make changes, then the temporary ban would be a waste of time because the city would be in the same position when ordinance expired; ban dispensaries or treat them just like pharmacies. He encouraged the council to step away from the temporary ban and let the process that the legislature set forth go forward.

“I see the medical need, and the hurt of people who really need this,” said Flanders, “I would rather see us get out of the way of this, let it take its course, and then use our efforts to petition the state, petition our really good senators and representatives, to make sure some of our concerns about their details that they [have] yet to put together, comes together in what we think is best for our city.”

Henderson expressed some sympathy for Flanders’ position, agreeing that the ban may ultimately prove to simply delay the inevitable, but in the end, he supported Kazemi’s request, saying that he trusted that the City Manager would not ask for the ordinance if he did not need it.

The temporary ban passed 4-2 with both Flanders and new Council Member Fred Burson dissenting. Council Member Gaile Anthony was not present for the meeting.

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