TAMPA — City Council members have been hearing plenty about crime, temptation and injustice from residents and recovery center officials who would be near a medical marijuana processing, cultivation and dispensary planned for East Tampa.
On Thursday, they heard their legal options under state law: zilch, nada, zero.
“Our bottom line is that you not even consider imposing a ban or moratorium at this time,” assistant city attorney Andrea Zelman told the council.
State law has preempted local governments from putting restrictions on medical marijuana businesses and has never allowed cities and counties to ban processing facilities, Zelman said. And the City Council voted in 2017 not to ban dispensaries. It also voted to restrict processing and cultivating facilities to areas in the city zoned for industrial uses, including the location for the planned facility at 2614 E. Henry Ave., near 22nd Street.
If council members decided to reverse their 2017 decision and ban dispensaries from the city, it may invite lawsuits, Zelman said. But it wouldn’t keep the processing and cultivation part of the 100,000-square-foot facility from opening, she said.
“The state really did tie your hands,” Zelman told council members.
That wasn’t what council member Orlando Gudes wanted to hear. He said lots of children live nearby and he’s heard plenty from residents who don’t want the facility in their struggling neighborhood.
He wasn’t interested in hearing that the city can’t do anything.
“I’m looking for legal to say, ‘What can we do?’” Gudes told Zelman.
Other council members felt the same. Guido Maniscalco said he sympathized with Gracepoint, which treats drug addiction among other services, and is located nearby on 22nd Street.
“It’s like putting a liquor store where an AA meeting is taking place," Maniscalco said.
But Chairman Luis Viera said it was important not to stigmatize people who use marijuana for medical conditions, a comment that brought some scoffs from opponents in the audience.
“We’re also dealing with something that is a medicine for people and we have to be careful not to shame people for using a medicine,” Viera said.
At Gudes’ request, council members asked the city to continue to research the issue, which Zelman agreed to do. But she noted that it wasn’t likely that a legal workaround could be found.
“We’ve got to find a solution going forward,” Gudes said.
People who don’t want marijuana dispensaries or processing facilities in their neighborhoods should contact their state representatives and senators, said council member Joe Citro.
“This is another infringement on our local rule. Take the handcuffs off of us and let us do what we do best,” Citro said.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to the City Council’s action in 2017. Council members voted to restrict processing and cultivating facilities to areas zoned for industrial use.