Token discussion on pot-shop rules

Brevard County commissioners have decided to hold a public hearing to discuss local regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries – which will be coming to the county soon, due to passage of Amendment 2 in November – even though county attorney Scott Knox advised them not to, calling the plan and any proposals that might come out of it premature.

“The legislature has not adopted a state law yet,” Knox said. “Seems to me before we figure out procedures we should wait for the legislature to do a comprehensive law on this. We may be going through a lot of effort without knowing.”

Commission Chairman Curt Smith and three of his fellow commissioners respectfully disagreed.

“What Scott says is true, but let’s get out in front of the issue,” Smith said. “We are not making a commitment except to move forward; 68 communities and counties already did what we are doing here.”

“Discussions on where dispensaries would be appropriate are local decisions,” said Mara Gambineri, communications director for the state Department of Health, which has until June to come up with its own regulations for dispensaries.

The state health department regulations will establish guidelines for registering treatment centers, issuing cards to patients using medical marijuana, and determining how much can be prescribed.

Local entities, whether counties or municipalities, have to write rules governing operating hours, signage, distance between dispensaries, and the required distance of dispensaries from residences, schools and churches. The county hearing will be a forum for discussing these matters.

The DOH has until the fall to begin registering Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers and issuing the cards, according to United for Care, the organization that spearheaded the amendment.

The county action comes after 71 percent of voters in the November election supported medical marijuana, even though smoking marijuana remains a crime. “Despite approval by voters, marijuana is still an illegal drug in Florida. Counties and cities all over the state are currently grappling with how they will make this available to those in need and what types of restrictions – zoning or otherwise – will be placed on these dispensaries,” said county spokesman Don Walker.

A pair of bills introduced in the state Senate in February complicate the situation by putting the health department’s still-developing regulations in abeyance until the end of the legislative session.

“The legislature does not have to get involved at all,” says Gambineri, who admits the rule-setting process is confusing. “The two bills authorize the department to promulgate rules. How that effects our currently proposed rules will depend on how different the law that passes is from the current regulatory framework. We might need to amend our proposed rule or start from scratch with a new rule.”

“We have to set our rules down anyway,” said Commissioner Kristine at the Feb. 21 meeting where the matter was discussed. “If legislation comes down and we have nothing in writing, we might be required to defer to someone else. So let’s get ahead of it. We also may want to look at what other cities have in place.”

Commissioner John Tobia, who voted against the resolution, preferred to wait until the issues could be hashed out in a workshop setting.

“There are so many moving parts, which is a reason we should have a workshop for people to bring their opinion. I have more questions than answers. I do not know how many locations fit the parameters. I have issues with the times they are open. Law enforcement should weigh in on this,” he said.

Knox agreed that a workshop makes sense, particularly if the state would send reps down to update the status of legislation.

Isnardi would like to see a projected map of dispensary locations. “We might not have enough locations.”

Added Commissioner Jim Barfield, “I do not want us to be on the outside when the state comes down with its rules.”

A public hearing/workshop will be scheduled in the near future, Walker said.

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