NEW PORT RICHEY — The city has taken the first step toward establishing guidelines for medical marijuana dispensaries that might be looking to open in New Port Richey.
Medical marijuana dispensaries will not be allowed in New Port Richey's downtown zoning district, but they could pop up in any commercial and industrial zoning district, according to an ordinance the City Council passed this week on first reading.
The ordinance treats pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries as equals zoning-wise, meaning they will be coupled together in a development standard class, which is mandated by a state law passed last legislative session.
The council approved five design criteria that must be met by dispensaries and pharmacies, though existing pharmacies are grandfathered in and not subject to the new zoning requirements or the ban from the downtown district. The criteria are:
• The building must be painted or otherwise finished in muted colors.
• Security bars are not allowed on the outside of doors or windows.
• Outdoor seating, displays, sales or promotions would be prohibited.
• Products cannot be consumed on-site.
• Graphics of plants from which medicine is derived or prescribed/non-prescribed drugs cannot be visible from more than 5 feet from the building.
The ordinance also bans medical marijuana dispensaries from being within 500 feet of a school unless approved by the council during a special exception hearing.
While the council approved the ordinance, council members called on the city staff to add a requirement before a final reading whereby proposed businesses would have to provide conceptual renderings of establishments to the council.
"I want these to look like professional medical facilities," said Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey.
Council member Bill Phillips raised the question of whether asking for more requirements of dispensaries and pharmacies would raise fairness issues. City Attorney Timothy Driscoll said the only worry for the city will be making sure both medical marijuana dispensaries and pharmacies are treated equally.
"Unfortunately, the pharmacies have to get swept up into this as well, so you have to strike a balance between over-regulating pharmacies and under-regulating medical marijuana treatment center dispensing facilities," Driscoll said. "I just would caution you to tread lightly because everything we do affects both of these uses."