Medical pot shops approved in most zoning categories

In about a year and a half, Melbourne businessman Michael C. Patterson hopes to be licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana in the Viera area so local patients won’t have to get it from other counties.

By then, he said last week, he expects courts to resolve a handful of lawsuits against the state Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Other would-be growers have objected to the state’s insistence that medical marijuana can’t be smoked – only processed into edible forms for swallowing or oils for e-cigarettes.

But for now, the Brevard County Commission gave Patterson and his potential patients a big step forward last week by approving medical-marijuana dispensaries in all the commercial, industrial or some tourist zoning districts where pharmacies are already allowed.

“I think it’s great,” Patterson, manager of U.S. Cannabis Pharmaceutical Research & Development LLC, said later. “It’s about time.”

Floridians in November 2016 voted in a 71 percent majority, more than the 60 percent needed, to amend the state constitution by legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. Brevard County voters echoed the same percent majority.

The amendment gave specialized doctors the authority to recommend marijuana for patients with HIV, AIDS, terminal cancer, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or post-traumatic stress disorder

The Rev. Tom Unrath, pastor of Cocoa’s Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church, hailed medical marijuana as a relief from his multiple sclerosis. He told commissioners Feb. 20 of his struggles with finding relief.

“The pain was so bad I couldn’t stand it,” he said. “But the pharmacies could only fill a prescription for opioids.”

The nuts and bolts of making medical marijuana a reality here has taken longer than the concept.

Commissioners first imposed a moratorium in October on medical-marijuana dispensaries after seeing where they could be located throughout the county. They wanted more restrictions on location.

But while Florida law allows cities and counties to ban medical-marijuana dispensaries, the state prevents those local governments that allow the dispensaries to regulate them more than they do pharmacies.

Planning and Development Director Tad Calkins’ answer was to limit new pharmacies along with dispensaries to parcels on major roads and with available water and sewer service.

On Feb. 20, commissioners voted 5-0 to reject Calkins’ restrictions. Commission Vice Chairwoman Kristine Isnardi, who won the motion, said she didn’t think it fair to add new restrictions for pharmacies because of the medical-marijuana facilities. The county already regulates pharmacies, she said.

And the moratorium itself, which she opposed in October, wasn’t fair to the patients awaiting relief.

Isnardi, a registered nurse of Palm Bay, said she has seen victims of opioid abuse and knows of medical marijuana granting relief. “They (dispensaries) can now go wherever a CVS or a Walgreens can go,” she said.

The moratorium is still there, Calkins said later. But it will sunset on March 9, at the end of this year’s session of the Florida Legislature. Calkins said his original proposal would have required a second reading on March 6. But the commission didn’t need a second reading without the restrictions.

The cities of Satellite Beach, Palm Bay, Palm Shores and Rockledge also passed ordinances recently for medical-marijuana dispensaries, Calkins added.

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