Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas County to consider rules for medical marijuana

CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Commission is slated to vote Tuesday on an ordinance to establish rules for growing, processing and selling medical pot in unincorporated areas of the county.

But before the vote, commissioners could hear passionate pleas from critics and supporters of medical marijuana during a 6 p.m. public hearing.

Under the current proposal, medical marijuana dispensaries would not be able to operate within 500 feet of schools, parks, libraries and religious facilities or within 1,000 feet of another marijuana treatment or dispensing facility.

And while users might have the munchies, there won't be any quick fixes. The proposed ordinance prohibits mobile vending, drive-through services and on-site consumption. The businesses would only be allowed to operate between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Finally, the dispensaries could only open in certain commercial and manufacturing zones.

The proposal would allow each business entity to operate a marijuana facility to cultivate, process, research and dispense in one zoned district and one retail facility in another district.

The ordinance does not cap the total number of facilities in a zoned district, but each one must meet the separation requirements, said Renea Vincent, director of the Pinellas County Planning Department.

The Pinellas rules are less restrictive than Hillsborough, where dispensaries must be at least 750 feet from schools, parks and other community gathering places, as well as any business that sells alcohol.

Another difference: Growers already approved by the state do not hold an advantage to get a license in Pinellas County.

The Tuesday hearing comes as Florida lawmakers are working to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. There is still no sign of a compromise between competing House and Senate plans. Officials say they have begun closed-door talks to bridge large divides between their legislation.

Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of voters, allows doctors to recommend marijuana for patients with certain debilitating conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In January, Pinellas commissioners enacted a sixth-month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities in the county.

At the time, a dozen residents spoke up on the proposal — an unusually large number. Supporters worried the moratorium would prevent sick patients from getting medical marijuana. Critics countered that kids would be at risk if marijuana was added to gummy bears, chocolate bars and other food items.

If commissioners approve the ordinance Tuesday, it will negate the moratorium.

Information from Times archives was used in this report.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente

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