Will medical marijuana impact Orlando's tourist district?

Proposed amendment does not restrict medical marijuana sale locations

By Sean Lavin - Producer

ORLANDO, Fla. - Could medical marijuana soon be sold on Orlando's International Drive?

If Florida's proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana passes, the answer is yes -- unless the Orange County Commission passes an ordinance restricting it, experts say.

[WEB EXTRA: Click here to read more on the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act]

That's because, while the proposed amendment says nothing about restricting the location where medical marijuana could be sold, it also says nothing about local government limiting its location, lawyers familiar with the legislation told Local 6. 

Some business owners in the I-Drive area told Local 6 they'd consider converting their shop into a medical marijuana dispensary. They didn't want to talk on camera, but those opposed to marijuana on I-Drive, did. 

"It will destroy the area," said Radia Thompson, of Shiraz Grill near the Orange County Convention Center. "I just don't thinks it's a good idea. It's just -- people, they abuse it." 

Tourists told us there's already illegal pot in town. 

"We were sitting at one of the bus stops and there was tobacco and little weed baggies all over," a spring breaker visiting Orlando from Canada said, adding that she believed medical marijuana being sold on I-Drive would boost tourism.

"People who smoke pot, they're gonna want to come to places where they can get it," she said. 

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is afraid the proposed constitutional amendment will make it too easy for people to get marijuana in Florida. She told the Florida Supreme Court a doctor could prescribe medical marijuana to someone who has trouble sleeping, because the language "does not limit 'conditions' to 'debilitating diseases.'" 

But Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, believes medical marijuana will be tightly regulated and help truly sick people who need it. He feels so strongly about such Floridians having access to medical marijuana, he filed the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, a bill which would legalize medical marijuana a month earlier than the constitutional amendment goes up for a vote. 

Saunders' bill, named after a woman with ALS who says medical marijuana relieves her suffering, also leaves the issue of where medical marijuana could be sold up to local governments. 

"So if Orange County Commissioners decided that it made sense to make sure our tourist community had access to medical marijuana -- because some are sick enough that they need it -- maybe they'll decide I-Drive is the right spot for it," Saunders said. "Or they may decide that it's not at all right for our tourist economy and it should only be over in Medical City."

So far Orange County hasn't taken steps to regulate where medical marijuana could be sold. The county told Local 6 it was simply too early to really have an official stance. But Cocoa Beach has already voted to work on regulating it.

Cocoa Beach Commissioner Skip Williams has been leading the effort to get out in front of the proposed change in Florida law that many believe will pass. 

"I personally have been in Venice Beach, California, and I don't think that's what we want in Cocoa Beach," Williams said. "They're trying to walk back a lot of that because they didn't have anything in place ahead of time. Other places in America who are doing medical marijuana are doing it right, and I want to make sure we're doing it right."

Visit Orlando and the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission all declined to comment about how medical marijuana tourism could impact the area economically. The International Drive Chamber of Commerce never returned our calls. 

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