After a unanimous vote of support by the Sarasota City Commission, medical marijuana dispensaries will now be operational in the city and those with prescriptions will be able to utilize them immediately.
State legislation had preempted the city’s ability to regulate the dispensaries, which led commissioners to place a temporary ban on them until a solution could be found. That solution happened last month when commissioners approved a plan to change zoning codes, paving the way for those prescribed the drug for various medical ailments to obtain it locally.
After four Sarasota residents spoke in favor of the dispensaries on Monday night — and no one from the public voiced opposition — the five commissioners took a final vote and passed the resolution.
The 20 dispensaries already in existence can now operate and there is the potential more will be added. Only medical marijuana in the form of vapors, oils and edibles will be dispensed.
At their previous meeting last month, commissioners voted to differentiate between the zoning of free-standing pharmacies and accessory-use pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens. The city will now allow dispensaries where free-standing pharmacies are zoned. That means the city will be able to regulate where the dispensaries incorporate themselves and how many will be allowed to operate.
The zoning codes were changed in four different categories and dispensaries are now allowed in the downtown core, commercial general area, commercial shopping center-regional and intensive commercial district. Dispensaries will not be allowed on St. Armands Circle, which is zoned commercial-tourist.
The zoning change allows the city to prevent the downtown area, for example, from being overrun by dispensaries.
Vice mayor Liz Alpert has said that since medicinal marijuana passed in 2016 she has heard very little negative feedback from residents and most of her constituents have been supportive.
Sarasota resident Olivia Babis was among those who spoke in favor Monday night. She uses cannabis oil to ease serious migraine headaches. A major benefit for Sarasota allowing dispensaries, she said, is that it will logistically help the disabled community, which is a high-target demographic for medicinal marijuana use.
For disabled people who can’t drive, or deal with seizures or spasms that prohibit driving, the only option available was to travel to Bradenton or Venice to obtain medicinal marijuana and that difficult for some as far as access and time-wise.
It can take up to six hours for the para-transit system to reach Bradenton, Babis said, and now that obstacle has been removed.