Medical marijuana shops won voters' approval - some cities still ban them
Relief from pain may not be around the corner for those seeking pain relief with marijuana. Never mind that nearly three-fourths of Florida’s voters agreed pot should be legal for medical use.
At least six South Florida cities have banned, or plan to ban, the dispensaries where legal marijuana can be procured.
“I don’t understand it,” says Arlene Owens 71, of Boca Raton, of cities’ bans. She said she’d rather try medical marijuana than live with the pain pump that helps relieve her spinal compression and arthritis. “It would be such a blessing for the aging population in our city.”
Boca Raton is considering banning marijuana dispensaries, even though 76 percent of voters in the city agreed last November that medical pot should be legal.
City Council member Robert Weinroth thinks patients or their families can go to nearby cities for medical-marijuana dispensaries. Boynton Beach and Lake Worth are allowing them, and given those cities’ proximity to Boca, “I don’t think we’re going to interfere with the rights of patients,” Weinroth said.
Cities with bans on dispensaries include:
— Lauderdale-By-the-Sea, which approved its ban Tuesday, despite the 73 percent of its voters who approved medical marijuana.
— Royal Palm Beach, where 74 percent of voters said ‘yes’ on a medical marijuana amendment.
— Sea Ranch Lakes, with 63 percent of voters in favor of legal medical pot.
— Southwest Ranches, with 70 percent of voters in favor.
In an Aug. 10 resolution, Southwest Ranches Town Council justified its ban, citing the town’s “fiscal inability to provide additional public safety personnel” to protect businesses and the public. It’s in the best interest of the “health, safety and welfare” of residents, the town said.
Cities have several concerns about rules released by the state Legislature in June. For example, the state requires dispensaries to operate as cash-only businesses, raising the potential for thieves to target them, officials say.
Also, the state rules left cities with two options: Ban dispensaries outright, or regulate their locations to the same degree that pharmacies are regulated.
Boca wants more of a say over dispensaries than what state law allows, Weinroth said. “I don’t think that we’re ready to embrace it at that level right now,” Weinroth said.
Lobbyist John Wayne Smith said the state rules have put a lot of cities in an awkward position with what he calls “half-baked” laws. “This is probably an issue that is going to evolve and get tweaked over the next five to 10 years,” Smith said.
Cities also aren’t allowed to restrict the number of dispensaries, but they can limit them to where other retail businesses are.
Waiting for a firmer grasp on the changes, Coral Springs is among the cities extending moratoriums on dispensaries. The city, which had 76 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of medical marijuana, now may delay action on the issue to January 2018.
Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein said he thinks extending his city’s moratorium for another year might be the best thing, even if 78 percent of the voters there approved legalizing it.
After South Florida dealt with a scourge of so-called “pill mills” in the early 2000s, Delray is among the cities wrangling with a rising number of opioid overdoses. There’s no sense in adding another drug-oriented hurdle, Glickstein said.
He said Florida has an abysmal record of keeping doctors from overprescribing pain medicine. “There’s a laundry list of unanswered questions regarding this legislation,” Glickstein said.
Florida’s law restricts cannabis prescriptions to those with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or similar conditions.
But after hearing of other states’ experiences with allowing medical and recreational pot, Glickstein said he thinks it’ll be impossible to keep pot out of the hands of recreational users.
Hillsboro Beach’s Town Commission plans to give final approval to a ban next month. It’s a formality: The town already doesn’t allow anything but residential uses in its one square mile.
Highland Beach also intends to approve a ban next month. Seventy-five percent of voters there approved a pro-marijuana measure in November.
Boca resident Katie Barr said she’s in favor of medical marijuana after caring for relatives who lived into their 90s. “Access to this herb would have made their last days a lot more bearable,” she said.
But as far as allowing it Boca, she’s all for waiting. “I don’t want to invite the abuse of any prescription medicine,” she said.
Lauderhill and Deerfield Beach’s city commissions are among the few cities where ban proposals have failed.
Deerfield Mayor Bill Ganz said after talking to voters, he wasn’t so worried about the city getting too many dispensaries.
On the campaign trail earlier this year, “there were a lot of people who spoke up about it — a lot of them elderly,” he said. “We’re not going to be the bad guy and shaft these people from something they really want.”
Deerfield Commissioner Bernie Parness said two decades ago, he baked illegal marijuana into his dying father’s brownies to make his last six months with cancer more bearable.
It helped his dad keep food down, and he was more alert and cheerful as a result, he said. “Why make a senior citizen who has bone cancer, and is a using a walker, have to travel to another town to get relief?” Parness asked.