Collier stalls on medical marijuana again

Lee Herald Favicon 16Collier residents seeking to purchase medical marijuana will have to look elsewhere as commissioners voted down a proposal that would have allowed dispensaries inside the county during their meeting on Tuesday.

Florida voters supported a ballot initiative allowing the use of medical marijuana by over 70 percent in 2016. During a special session last June, state legislators created the framework for how dispensaries should be regulated, which has caused concern for many local governments in Southwest Florida. The legislation requires governments to either treat dispensaries like any normal pharmacy, with the one additional regulation that they not be placed near a school, or to ban them entirely.

The lack of ability to apply additional regulations has caused many local governments around the state to adopt a wait and see strategy with dispensaries, applying moratoriums in the hopes that additional direction would come down from the state legislature. Collier has been one of those counties, repeatedly extending a moratorium enacted in February of 2017.

In March, after another legislative session with no action taken, County Zoning Division Director Mike Bosi advised the board that it was unlikely further regulatory power would be coming from Tallahassee and it is was time to make a decision on medical marijuana. The board voted 3-2 at that time to have an ordinance drafted that would allow dispensaries, but a 4-1 supermajority vote was required to pass the ordinance when it was heard Tuesday evening.

When presenting the new ordinance to commissioners, Bosi explained that because of the wording of Collier’s land use code, anything that is not explicitly allowed is effectively banned.

“If we cannot gain the four votes for the supermajority, by default or action would result in the board of county commissioners essentially banning that use,” Bosi said.

It quickly became clear that the ordinance did not have the supermajority support it required when a motion by Commissioner William McDaniel to approve almost died on table due to lack of a second, until Commissioner Andy Solis stepped in to allow discussion on the measure.

“Like it or not, feel as we may or not, it was a constitutional amendment,” said McDaniel. “It was voted on by the majority of the populous and I feel it is incumbent on us to allow for these dispensaries to be located here.”

Multiple members of the board restated their concerns that a lack of regulatory power made the passing the ordinance too risky and supported having staff bring the issue back to the board in six months time.

“I am concerned with the inability of the county to control the number of dispensaries,” said Commissioner Burt Saunders. “If we permit one, then the door is open for whatever number.”

The motion failed in a 2-3 vote with McDaniel and Solis supporting.

“There you have it,” McDaniel muttered after the vote.

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