PALMETTO -- The Palmetto City Commission narrowly passed a medical marijuana ordinance Monday to potentially restrict facilities to the city's commercial heavy industrial zone.
Ward 2 Commissioner Tambra Varnadore said the vote was neither in support nor against the proposed constitutional amendment on whether to legalize medical marijuana in the state. Florida voters will decide the question Nov. 4.
"The city's not weighing in with support or not support," said Varnadore. "It's being proactive. It's a good starting point to have something on the books so if Amendment 2 passes, it's handled. If it doesn't pass, then it doesn't matter."
Ward 1 Commissioner Charles Smith reiterated his argument that it is senseless to vote on an ordinance when the will of the people has yet to be determined.
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"It's up to the will of the voter and this should go to the ballot box and then to the city commission," said Smith. "To do so prior to people voting is not proper, whether for it or against it."
Smith said he believes city officials attempting to legislate medical marijuana before it is allowed by law open themselves up to lawsuits "because there is not consistency in these ordinances being created all across the state. I don't know anyone who is going to be able to sell marijuana the day after the vote without going to jail. There has to be state licenses and regulations established. To create ordinances prior without some kind of acknowledgement that something in it is flawed, is irresponsible."
After initial arguments and concerns, it took several seconds of silence before Ward 3 Commissioner Brian Williams motioned to adopt it. Williams said it was a "tough one" to make.
Several more seconds passed before Vice Mayor Jonathan Davis seconded the motion "for discussion."
Davis asked city attorney Mark Barnebey what would happen if Amendment 2 passes without a city ordinance in place. Barnebey said technically anyone applying for a medical marijuana business license would be afforded the opportunity to apply as general retail use "and could then be located anywhere in our commercial districts without further commission review."
The city's primary commercial districts are its downtown corridor, waterfront and parts of 10th Street West. It was an argument noted by commissioners still on the fence with a vote pending.
"My issue is we need to be prepared to have someplace for these prospective businesses to go where it's not going to affect children," said Williams. "I don't want that. Having some regulation is far better than not having anything."
Smith remained adamantly opposed, saying the Florida League of Cities recommends against restricting medical marijuana facilities in out-of-the way industrial districts more vulnerable to criminal activity.
"You may want it where you can see it," said Smith. "If you want to pass this ordinance, then fine, but the will of the people is Nov. 4. State licenses will be required and the criteria for that hasn't been decided yet. You may find that you are voting for something you didn't want."
Williams, Davis and Varnadore voted to adopt the ordinance, while Smith and at-large Commissioner Tamara Cornwell voted against.
Cornwell, too, has expressed opposition to the ordinance throughout the process, preferring to wait on the Amendment 2 results and see what the state will decide to regulate. She even proposed a one-year moratorium on allowing medical marijuana facilities in the city until state regulations were clear should Amendment 2 pass, but she did not garner support.