Pinellas County considers moratorium on medical marijuana
CLEARWATER--Amid passionate pleas from residents, Pinellas County commissioners took the first step Tuesday to consider enacting a sixth-month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities in the county.
With a tentative ordinance being considered, 12 residents offered reasons why commissioners should pass and reject the proposal. It's rare for 12 residents to speak on any issue before the board.
Supporters worried the moratorium could delay getting medical marijuana into the hands of sick patients. Critics countered that children would be at risk if marijuana was added to gummy bears, chocolate bars and other food items.
"Our family should not have to wait one more day because of politics," said Clearwater mother Dani Hall, whose two autistic sons would use the drug. "We will never stop fighting for our kids."
But a local leader of Drug Free America disagreed.
"Our concern is with public health and safety," said Amy Ronshausen, deputy director of the organization.
Commissioners will vote Jan. 24 after residents offer input at a second hearing.
Several residents urged commissioners to not forget that 75 percent of Pinellas voters approved the law in November.
Amendment 2, which was added to the state Constitution with 71 percent of voters' support in November, allows doctors to recommend marijuana for patients with a long list of debilitating conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The amendment's passing started the clock on a six-month deadline for the Florida Department of Health to set rules governing the program.
Commissioner Ken Welch cautioned that medical marijuana in Florida is new for all residents.
"We're not trying to defeat the will of the voters," Welch said. "You're watching us make sausage up here. The voters have spoken."
Commissioner Pat Gerard agreed, saying: "I'm in favor of allowing it to be available as soon as possible."
County staffers cautioned that the ordinance would not supersede any statewide rules that could come from the Florida Legislature of the state Department of Health.
Local leaders are more concerned with zoning requirements for prospective business locations, said county administrator Mark Woodard. He expects to have a set of guidelines for commissioners to consider in March or April.
The ordinance would only apply to unincorporated areas of Pinellas County.