The six local elected boards and councils with jurisdiction over Brevard’s south barrier island from the Sebastian Inlet to the Pineda Causeway have all either banned the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries, or enacted a moratorium while challenges to the new state laws shake out – despite the fact that 70.8 percent of Brevard County voters favored legalizing medical marijuana on last November’s ballot.
The statewide vote on Amendment 2 was 71.3 percent in favor, well over the 60 percent required supermajority. The legislature still needed to approve enabling legislation detailing the nuts and bolts of how this new enterprise would be regulated. The technical term for the dispensaries is a Medical Marijuana Treatment Center, or MMTC.
After Amendment 2 passed, municipal officials were advised to delineate specific areas where MMTCs could operate by tweaking their zoning regulations. But Florida House and Senate members in a June special session passed a compromise bill with a baffling amendment that leaves local governments hamstrung with regard to regulating the location of the dispensaries. A town, city or county can either ban them entirely within its borders, or allow them anywhere a licensed pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens could operate. The law pre-empts the regulation of the MMTCs to the state.
Here’s how your local elected boards voted on the issue:
- Melbourne Beach voted 4-1 to prohibit marijuana dispensaries on June 21, with Wyatt Hoover the dissenting vote. In this case it involved repealing a prior decision to permit such dispensaries.
- Indialantic voted to prohibit marijuana dispensaries on Sept. 13 by a 4 to 1 vote, with Mary Jo Kilcullen opposed to the prohibition.
- Brevard County Commissioners approved on first reading Oct. 10 a moratorium on establishing dispensaries. It comes up for a second reading Oct. 24. The ordinance sunsets on either the last day of the 2018 regular session of the legislature or the enactment of an ordinance regulating dispensaries, whichever comes first.
- Melbourne City Council adopted an ordinance on Oct. 10 that also banned medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits including beachside, according to Cheryl A. Dean, city planning manager.
- Satellite Beach City Council on Feb. 1 unanimously approved an ordinance establishing a nine-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, directing staff to develop proposed land development regulations. The council was scheduled to reconsider the matter this week. Mayor Frank Catino, Vice Mayor Steve Osmer and City Council members Mark Drimer, Mindy Gibson and Dominick Montanaro, commented that the moratorium “would provide the time needed to see what parameters the Legislature will set to ensure that changes made by the city would be in compliance with the state,’’ according to meeting minutes.
- Indian Harbour Beach City Council on Oct. 10 voted unanimously to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in their city rather than continue to leave a moratorium in place until January 2018. Indian Harbour Beach City Councilman Gene Newberry noted that about 70 percent of the Indian Harbour Beach voters approved the measure but added that other cities in Brevard would have dispensaries. Also voting for the ban was Mayor David Panicola, Deputy Mayor Scott Nickle and council members Jim Nolan Sr. and Frank Guertin.
Law enforcement officers – sheriffs and police chiefs local leaders know and trust – have urged the elected officials to ban these treatment centers, saying it makes their job of fighting drugs and drug dealers even tougher if there’s legal pot being sold in town.
The local regulation dilemma has been so confusing and so hotly debated that the Florida Bar Journal published an article in the local and government law section of its November 2017 issue about the sticky position elected officials now find themselves in, tasked with carrying out the will of their constituents while also protecting neighborhoods and business districts from the perceived ill.
“This area of the law, regulation of medical marijuana, is entirely new. The Florida Legislature’s attempts to establish some sort of regulation is laudable. However, the government closest to the people is most equipped to address the health, safety, and general welfare of its constituents. For that reason, Senate Bill 8-A’s preemption, as codified in F.S. §381.986(11) (2017), is a gigantic step in the wrong direction,” columnists Patricia D. Smith and Andrew P. Lannon wrote.
The medical marijuana permitted by the 2016 referendum can be high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. Patients with cancer or other chronic illnesses seeking relief who do not have time to wait for lawyers to fight this one out can still get the low-THC or zero-THC cannabis products known as “Charlotte’s Web” that have been legal since passage of the 2014 Compassionate Use of Low-THC Cannabis Act, either with a prescription or from area health food stores and smoke shops carrying CBD oil and edibles containing therapeutic cannabinoids. These compounds, which deliver medicinal benefits of the hemp plant without the “high,” have been used to treat patients with seizures, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis and other serious conditions.
Staff Writers Bill Sokolic and George White contributed to this report.