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As Locals Prep For Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, Moratoriums Considered

Sandra Averhart

Florida’s constitutional amendment expanding the scope of medical marijuana in the state took effect last week. Lawmakers now have six months to come up new rules for governing the industry.

In the meantime, local governments across Northwest Florida are taking a variety of approaches as to the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries and many are considering temporary moratoriums.

To date, the City of Pensacola has been one of the most the proactive in setting parameters for the dispensaries, after fielding two zoning inquiries from interested businesses last summer and making the early decision to treat such facilities as pharmacies.

“So, anywhere a pharmacy was allowed these businesses could operate,” said City Administrator Eric Olsen. “So, we did reply back positively.”  

That means the locations being considered, one on Bayou Boulevard and another on Davis Highway, would be allowable.

Now, the city is putting that in writing.

At their regular meeting this Thursday evening, the Pensacola City Council is moving forward with the first of two public hearings on a proposed change in the Land Development Code to establish specific zoning requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries.

The proposal, which has been reviewed by the Planning Board, came from Councilman Andy Terhaar.

“In a nutshell, it was a more restrictive zoning category and also to more specifically define medical marijuana dispensaries,” said Olsen, noting that they wanted to clear up any gray areas. “We were just called them pharmacies, but now if you look in the land development code, it will say Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and they are allowed in commercial use districts: C1, C2; all the way up to Industrial.”

The council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 222 W. Main Street.

If the zoning change is approved, medical marijuana dispensaries could be located in any commercial district in Pensacola that allows pharmacies, except for the one designated as R-NC which allows both residential and commercial use.

Also, the change would not affect the two Pensacola retail sites being considered.

Trulieve, the company that opened the state’s first medical marijuana dispensary in August in Tallahassee, is now renovating a building at  3119 N. Davis Highway, which is at the corner of Davis  and Texar Drive.

Looking eastward, the City of Destin also got an early jump on the issue, by adopting new zoning rules soon after passage of Amendment Two in November.

For now, such facilities will be limited to the city’s fairly small industrial district.

“What we’ve done is establish a 330-foot setback from Main St. and Airport Blvd. and so that really establishes a certain area where the dispensaries could be starting out,” said Mayor Pro Tem Prebble Ramswell. “The thing about starting out small is you can always expand, but we needed to make sure it was somewhat manageable and somewhere we can really keep an eye on how things progress.”

So, a place has been established in Destin. But, when it comes to actual operation of medical marijuana dispensaries, the city has put the brakes on for now.

“We did have a business come forward, who said they would be interested in serving as a dispensary and obtaining the necessary licenses. However, we’re not in a position to do it yet,” Ramswell said, adding that there were just too many unknowns until they see what the state is going to do.

As a result the city of Destin last week adopted an ordinance establishing a moratorium on the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries until at least July 1.

Meantime, the City of Gulf Breeze is working to implement a one-year moratorium.

“It’s hitting the pause button so we can evaluate the manner in which marijuana will be dispensed,” said City Manager Buz Eddy, noting that the mayor and council have an array of questions and concerns.

For example, Eddy asks “Is it going to be a medical office type of use?” He continues. “Is it going to be a commercial use in conjunction with pharmacies? Is it going to be the kind of distribution that’s done on site or is it the kind of take-away product from a pharmacy?”

Although Destin has implemented a zoning change, Gulf Breeze plans to wait for new state regulations before taking action to amend the land development code.

But, as it relates to the proposed moratorium, Eddy is on the same page as Destin’s Prebble Ramswell in reassuring residents that the city’s planned moratorium should not be interpreted as anti-medical marijuana.

“We just want to be sure we deal with this issue carefully and properly,” Eddy proclaimed. “This is something cities and counties all across the state of Florida are doing to set forth guidelines and locational criteria for this type of business use the same as we would anything else.”

The second public hearing on the proposed moratorium in Gulf Breeze is set for next Tuesday, Jan. 17.

At the county level, the Okaloosa County Commission is moving toward a possible 180-day moratorium on the permitting of potential medical marijuana dispensaries and has scheduled two public hearings. The first will be held at their Planning Meeting this Thursday, Jan. 12. The hearing will be held at Niceville City Hall, 208 Partin Dr. N, beginning at the advertised time of 5:01 p.m.  A second hearing will be conducted at their regular meeting on Jan. 17.

The Escambia and Santa Rosa County Commissions have each discussed the possibility of a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, but have yet to take any action. 

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.