PolitiFact Florida: Anti-medical marijuana group sounds alarm too early on 'seedy' neighborhood pot shops

A worker at a San Francisco medical cannabis clinic prepares packets of marijuana buds for sale in San Francisco. [Associated Press File Photo]
A worker at a San Francisco medical cannabis clinic prepares packets of marijuana buds for sale in San Francisco. [Associated Press File Photo]
Published August 21 2016
Updated August 22 2016

Local governments will be powerless to prevent medical marijuana dispensaries from sprouting up anywhere and everywhere should Amendment 2 pass this fall, opponents of the measure say.

A pamphlet from Vote No on 2 recently mailed to voters warns that the constitutional amendment prevents any kinds of restrictions on the locations of marijuana-related businesses. The amendment would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana for certain health conditions and patients to pick up the drug from dispensaries that sell it.

"Because there's no local option to allow communities to ban, limit or restrict the location of pot shops, if Amendment 2 passes you can expect the seedy elements of the pot industry to move in right next door to your neighborhood, your church, your business and even your child's school," the pamphlet cautions.

Vote No on 2 is a campaign run by the Drug Free Florida Committee, an antidrug group started in 2014.

We wanted to know whether Amendment 2 prevented communities from their own bans on so-called "pot shops."

The short answer is that the amendment does not have any provisions for local legislation — but that's only because the state would eventually be deciding whether local jurisdictions could do that.

If Amendment 2 passes, doctors would only recommend cannabis, because it's illegal under federal law. Doctors would risk losing their ability to practice medicine if they prescribe marijuana. Pharmacies also can't legally distribute cannabis, making dispensaries necessary.

The proposed amendment requires the Legislature and the health department to figure out all the details of implementing medical marijuana should the measure pass — including the number of dispensaries and where they're allowed to be.

Vote No on 2 spokeswoman Christina Johnson pointed out to us that Amendment 2 does not include any language about a local option, and therefore doesn't guarantee the state will allow local control. But the amendment also doesn't prevent the state from letting local jurisdictions create their own rules.

Kate Bell, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, said regulations would have to spell out specifics, such as setbacks from schools and how dispensaries must follow local zoning laws. If the state doesn't make distinct rules about dispensaries, local rules would likely apply.

The examples from other laws vary, as all 25 medical marijuana states (plus the District of Columbia) differ in regulations.

In New York, a rule says dispensaries can't be within 1,000 feet of a "school, church, synagogue or other place of worship." In Washington, D.C., a dense urban area, dispensaries and cultivation centers where marijuana is grown may be no closer than 300 feet of a "preschool, primary or secondary school, or recreation center."

There is some precedent for local governments being prevented from prohibiting dispensaries entirely. Maryland regulations say a licensed dispensary "shall conform to all local zoning and planning requirements," but the state's attorney general has said in an opinion that those rules can't outright ban dispensaries. Arizona law says "cities, towns and counties may enact reasonable zoning regulations that limit the use of land for registered nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries to specified areas," but court rulings have said those laws can't make opening a dispensary practically impossible.

Andrew Livingston, a policy analyst for national law firm Vicente Sederberg, which represents marijuana businesses, said Florida is fairly unique in trying to pass a constitutional amendment with the expectation of marijuana storefronts. Nevada and Colorado passed constitutional amendments, and both allow local dispensary bans.

He said almost all states that used voter-approved initiatives — like California, Oregon and Alaska — made the decision before the idea of dispensaries became popular.

More than two dozen Florida cities have already regulated or completely banned medical marijuana sales. Boca Raton, for example, has a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation, processing or distribution until city zoning rules are ironed out. Pasco County has banned any type of marijuana business.

And while cannabis is still illegal in Plant City, the city commission passed an ordinance Aug. 8 in anticipation of Amendment 2 winning at the polls. If federal law one day changes, medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed, but they still have to be at least 500 feet from schools, churches, day cares, drug treatment centers, public parks and residential areas.

While the statement is technically accurate about the amendment's wording, fears about the precise locations of pot shops and local control are premature. We rate the statement Mostly False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/florida.