Palmetto looks at regulating medical marijuana dispensaries

myoung@bradenton.comMay 20, 2014 

FILE--Samples of medical marijuana are displayed at Canna Care in Sacramento, Calif. PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / SACRAMENTO BEE via MCT

PALMETTO -- City officials discussing marijuana, snack machines and drinking out of a red Solo cup sounds like a bad country song, but it consumed most of the Palmetto City Commission meeting Monday evening.

The commission was expected to discuss regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries in Palmetto ahead of November's referendum where 60 percent of the state vote will be required to legalize medical marijuana.

The ordinance at the end of the workshop agenda did not make it for discussion.

However, officials took advantage of having District 71 state Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, discuss the issue from the state perspective.

Fresh out of the concluded legislative session, Boyd made Palmetto, where he once served as commissioner and mayor, his first stop to update municipalities on Tallahassee activity.

Boyd said he hopes the marijuana referendum will be voted down and expects Gov. Rick Scott to sign off on the Charlotte's Web bill -- legislation that would legalize medicinal cannabis in a pill form without the drug THC. Boyd said he hopes voters get the message the Legislature has provided gravely ill people relief without opening the door to marijuana abuse.

"My opinion is that medical marijuana is very bad

for Florida," said Boyd. "It's about marijuana being disbursed in a very loose regulatory environment."

Boyd said the way the referendum language is worded ,a 14-year-old could visit a chiropractor, complain of a sore knee and receive a medical marijuana scrip.

"I don't believe that is what Florida wants," he said.

Floridians disagree, however, according to a recent poll that showed 82 percent of voters support legalizing marijuana, but Boyd said the poll questions were skewed.

"They were worded to ask if you would support providing relief to a gravely ill family member," he said. "Well of course you do. But that's what we did with the Charlotte's Web bill and hopefully the governor signs the bill and Floridians see we accomplished that goal."

Ward 1 Commissioner Charles Smith asked if legislators would strengthen regulations if the referendum passes.

"The fear is that it's so loosely worded that if it passes, it will be hard to undo," said Boyd.

City officials did not get a chance to discuss the marijuana ordinance. Smith said it should have never appeared on an agenda until the November vote, but said: "I don't think it's not going to pass."

Within the draft ordinance, the city will regulate any medical marijuana dispensary coming to Palmetto if the referendum does pass. Location restrictions and enforcement measures such as no loitering, no drive-through service and limiting hours of operation from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. would be included in the Palmetto ordinance.

In other matters, commissioners called a June 2 public hearing regarding changes to the city's alcohol ordinance. Public Works Director Alan Tusing said it is the last of an ongoing effort to bring the ordinance in line with city zoning codes and potentially attract new business.

The ordinance now has tight restrictions on restaurants serving alcohol within 300 feet of a church or school. Tusing said a couple of city properties ideal for a restaurant and one existing restaurant are all just within that distance.

The open container aspect of the ordinance is based partially on Manatee County and Bradenton ordinances. Smith objected to Bradenton's ordinance saying it allows police officers to be confrontational with citizens by inspecting cups only suspected of containing alcohol.

Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells said searching anyone on the side of the road without probable cause would not hold up in court. He was agreeable to change the language to "observe an alcoholic container" such as a beer bottle.

Ward 3 Commissioner Brian Williams asked Tusing to make sure the ordinance does not hurt local businesses before bringing the matter to public hearing.

In other city matters, commissioners tried three times to pass an ordinance restricting vending machines. However, commissioners could not agree on the number of machines allowable and whether the machines would require a building permit.

Three separate motions were were voted down leaving the existing ordinance in place, which allows up to three machines per business.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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