FL: Vote Was Close, But Wellington OKs Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

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Wellington has joined Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and unincorporated parts of Palm Beach County as communities that will allow medical marijuana dispensaries.

The ordinance passed on a 3-2 vote by Wellington’s council on Monday night — with Mayor Anne Gerwig and Councilman Michael Drahos dissenting — that changes the village’s pharmacy zoning to include medical marijuana dispensaries under the following rules:

•Dispensaries and pharmacies need to be a minimum of 10,000 square feet.

•They would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of a primary or secondary school.

•One pharmacy or dispensary would be allowed per shopping center, with an exception for pharmacies in grocery stores.

Exceptions would be made for pharmacies or dispensaries, either freestanding or in shopping centers, with frontage along State Road 7. Compounding pharmacies and wholesale distributors who do not directly work with the public also are exempt.

Florida law requires local governments to either ban dispensaries altogether or to allow them under the same rules as pharmacies.

The new zoning rules effectively force pharmacies or medical marijuana dispensaries that want to open in the village to build along State Road 7, village officials said.

Gerwig argued the swaths of unincorporated land along State Road 7 would not prevent dispensaries from opening there.

“The problem is this is a Schedule I drug,” she said. “It is illegal federally.”

Marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug also was noted by Drahos, who said the cash-only nature of the dispensary business concerns him. He added that while he voted with the majority of Wellington residents — more than 70 percent — in support of Amendment 2 in November 2016 to legalize medical marijuana, he would not vote in support of allowing dispensaries in Wellington.

“I can’t take the risk of that type of business coming into Wellington,” Drahos said.

Councilman Michael Napoleone said the village has a duty to make medical marijuana accessible to the residents who need it.

“People need to understand that we’re not talking about recreational pot shops,” he said.

Wellington is the first municipality to change its pharmacy zoning to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, Vice Mayor John McGovern said.

“And that’s because Wellington is in a very unique position where we are essentially at commercial and residential build-out and as such we can rezone pharmacies in a way that confines future pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries to a place where they are best suited, on 441, in what is being built to be or coming to be the health services corridor,” McGovern said.

But Gerwig countered that there are other municipalities in Palm Beach County that are closer to build-out than Wellington, but still have banned dispensaries.

“I’m not fearful. I’m not doing this out of fear,” Gerwig said. “I am being cautious.”

Of the seven public comments made during the hearing, five were in support of the measure.

“We should be forging therapeutic partnerships with these dispensaries, not forcing them to the outskirts of town,” said Dr. Vincent Apicella, whose Premier Family Health practice is in the Wellington Reserve along State Road 7.