Brooksville council moves toward ban on medical marijuana dispensaries

Brooksville City Hall — 201 Howell Ave., Brooksville
Brooksville City Hall — 201 Howell Ave., Brooksville
Published October 3 2018
Updated October 3 2018

BROOKSVILLE — City councilors briskly approved the first reading of a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in Brooksville at a meeting Monday, joining a wave of communities pushing back against Florida's legalization of the drug for medical use.

The panel voted 5–0 to move forward with the ban, setting up a second and final vote on Oct. 15. The ordinance would prohibit dispensaries from opening within city limits — something otherwise allowed by state law.

No council member commented on the proposal before Monday's vote, and neither did anyone in the audience.

In an interview later in the week, councilman Joe Bernardini said he believes the main concern is whether dispensaries could negatively impact other businesses. The council had heard from business owners elsewhere, he said, who were worried.

"Some of the businesses were not happy with (dispensaries) being next to their business," he said.

In a separate interview, though, Mayor Betty Erhard said she will likely vote against the second draft because of the potential revenue dispensaries could bring in for the city.

Here's the backstory:

Two years ago, over 70 percent of Florida voters backed legalizing medical marijuana.

In January 2017, Brooksville placed a one-year halt on dispensaries opening in the city so officials could study the matter. That summer, the Florida Legislature passed its medical marijuana law, required by the voter referendum, which detailed how cities can govern dispensaries.

In August, seven months after the city's moratorium on dispensaries expired, the Brooksville council directed the city attorney to draft a full ban. It was reviewed by the city planning commission in September. That commission recommended rejecting the ban and voiced concern about residents' access to the drug.

Councilors on Monday had three options: They could do nothing and allow dispensaries to be regulated by the state; they could adopt the ban; or they could send the ordinance back to staffers to revise.

After a presentation from the city attorney detailing the options, the decision played out in less than two minutes. The period for council members to comment lasted 30 seconds, with one question to confirm that all they had to do was vote. Erhard turned to the audience, and hearing no one interested in speaking, returned to the council for the vote — another 30 seconds.

If the second reading ends with an approval on Oct. 15, Brooksville will become the latest municipality in Florida to reject medical marijuana dispensaries. A March investigation by the Naples Daily News found that more than 100 communities had permanently or temporarily banned dispensaries. The movement comes in spite of voter support statewide; more than 71 percent of voters in 2016 supported legalizing medical marijuana in Florida.

Bernardini said the council can always change the ordinance if new information comes to light.

Contact Justin Trombly at Follow @JustinTrombly.