Brevard supports moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries
Officials want moratorium to extend through July 1, 2018
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Brevard County commissioners reversed course Tuesday on their collective approach to the opening of medical marijuana dispensaries within unincorporated Brevard.
According to our news partners at Florida Today, the change of heart came after they saw how widespread the dispensaries could be in the county, including near some of their homes or churches.
Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to begin the process of establishing a moratorium on the opening of such facilities. They want the moratorium to extend until July 1, 2018, during which time they could create a special zoning classification that would include both medical marijuana dispensaries and retail pharmacies.
Voting for the moratorium were Chairman Curt Smith, Vice Chair Rita Pritchett and Commissioners Jim Barfield and John Tobia. Voting against was Commissioner Kristine Isnardi.
In contrast, the County Commission last month voted 3-1 to begin the process of allowing such facilities in areas of unincorporated Brevard with "General Retail Commercial, Business 1" zoning — the same zoning classification where pharmacies can locate. Barfield, Pritchett and Smith initially supported that approach, while Tobia wanted a moratorium and Isnardi was absent from that meeting. That plan also was unanimously approved Monday by the advisory Brevard County Local Planning Agency.
One difference this time around for the County Commission: Tobia distributed a set of maps during Tuesday's meeting, illustrating how pervasive the Business 1 zoning is in unincorporated Brevard — including near Smith's house, and near the church where Pritchett works and worships.
"I just want you guys to be aware that, again, should we go through with this ordinance and zone them BU-1, there is no limit, and it is my understanding that if we go through with this, we will not, as a board, make these decisions," Tobia said. "They will pop up. So be prepared. Here is factual information as to where BU-1 is, and to very close proximity to where we live and where we worship. We would not be able to stop either one of these, it is my understanding, should they fill out the proper forms to open one of these medicinal marijuana treatment centers."
"That's obviously a concern of mine," Smith said. "It gives us no flexibility, and that's a concern of mine. I understand it is an all-or-nothing."
Isnardi, though, insisted that a moratorium is not the way to go, because it would limit access to medical marijuana for people who need it.
"I appreciate the scary maps," Isnardi said.
But having a moratorium "is a scary way to go because it's not listening to what people are asking for," said Isnardi, who is a registered nurse. "And I don't think that's a very liberty thing to do. You want to talk about liberty? The voters approved this. We're not talking about a bunch of drug houses or a bunch of places where people are going to be smoking pot. These are dispensaries. So I'm not OK with a moratorium because I still think we're denying access. It is denial of access, in my opinion — a voter-approved measure."
The medical marijuana constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 2, received the support of 71 percent of Florida voters in November. Amendment 2 gave doctors the authority to order marijuana for patients who have cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis.
Smith said he recognized Isnardi's concerns, but said people who need medical marijuana could go to a facility in a community that doesn't have a moratorium or have it delivered to their house.
Brevard County Attorney Scott Knox said, under state law, counties and municipalities have few options. They can implement a moratorium or they can allow the dispensaries in the same zoning classifications as used by retail pharmacies.
Tuesday's action by the County Commission is not the final vote, Knox said. Rather, it directs county staff to prepare an ordinance calling for a moratorium. That ordinance would be the subject of two public hearings.
Subsequently, Knox said, under the County Commission's direction, county staff would create a new zoning classification specifically for pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries. That would be the subject of two additional public hearings.
The County Commission action has no direct effect on Brevard's 16 cities and towns. The municipal governing bodies can either pass their own moratoriums on the dispensaries or allow them in their communities.
Pritchett noted that she knows "a lot of cities are watching us to see how to handle" the issue.
The Florida Legislature passed SB 8-A during a special session in June as an implementation plan for Amendment 2.
Senate Bill 8-A limits the home rule powers of Florida's counties and municipalities in regulating such facilities, such as how many can be in a community and what limits can be placed on their hours of operation.
Under Senate Bill 8-A, such facilities can be no closer than 500 feet from a public or private school, unless a county or municipality determines a location closer than that to a school "promotes the health, safety and general welfare of the community."
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