A 180-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensing facilities is on track to being enacted Dec. 13 for unincorporated Manatee County.
During a meeting Thursday, the Manatee County Commission had the first of two required public hearings and set the second hearing to take place during the Dec. 13 commission meeting.
“It is not a prohibition on medical marijuana,” Bill Clague, assistant county attorney, told the commissioners and handful of people in attendance Thursday.
Since medical marijuana is a land use not currently addressed in Manatee County codes, the temporary moratorium, which is similar to what other jurisdictions in the state are doing since Amendment 2 passed, gives the opportunity for the county to review all the laws, said Fred Goodrich, a planner with Manatee County.
“We want to get this right,” he said. “We want all the regulations, all the rules in front of us. We have had inquiry but we have had no one actually apply. We don’t have a process that you can apply right now.”
Parrish residents Cathy and Bob Jordan, who have been advocating for medical use of cannabis for 20 years, spoke about the benefits of medical marijuana during Thursday’s meeting. Cathy Jordan was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in the 1980s but credits the fact that she’s still living to her use of cannabis.
“If you are going along the same guidelines as the state, we got no problem with that,” Robert Jordan said. “We fought for years to get where we are today, and we won.”
Manatee County resident Glen Gibellina urged the commission to let people go forward in looking for places to open dispensaries in the county.
“Can you even do it in six months? You talked about an extension,” he said. “I don’t think the county is capable of doing this in six months.”
A Drug Free Manatee official spoke in favor of the moratorium Thursday.
“It is a new industry in this state where cities and counties aren’t prepared,” said Sharon Kramer, the organization’s director. “We encourage you to do the 180-day moratorium. Do it correctly and protect the citizens of Manatee County.”
The moratorium will allow the county to make sure its rules “jibe” with the state, Commissioner Betsy Benac said.
“We are trying to make sure when we implement it at the local level because we have land use restrictions we implement properly,” she said. “We aren’t trying to undue a constitutional amendment. We are trying to make sure who and how they are regulated. There’s going to be regulations, and we just want to make sure we get it right.”
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said they have to “figure out and understand what the state is going to mandate to us.”
“This is not something to play around with,” she said. “This is going to affect the quality of life we have in many different ways depending on who you are. We will do it in a timely fashion but we will also do it in a way that we feel is best for all residents of our county.”
Once the moratorium is in place, county staff will review all the regulations that come from state agencies including Department of Health and possibly have public workshops, Goodrich said.
“We need to get their input,” he said. “There’s a long process here that we are going to have to go through.”
Clague added: “We are going to have to get it done within that time period.”