FL: West Palm Poised To OK Prescription Marijuana Dispensaries

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Photo Credit: David Horemans

The city gave initial approval for medical marijuana dispensaries to open in nonresidential areas, with few restrictions.

City Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to allow dispensaries and regulate them no differently than pharmacies, except that they can’t be closer than 500 feet from a school.

Should they give final approval, as expected Monday, June 18, West Palm would join Lake Worth, Wellington, Boynton Beach and Deerfield Beach in allowing the dispensaries, which sell pot for prescription use. Although still illegal under federal law, 29 states permit medical marijuana, and nine states, in the West and New England, allow marijuana for recreational use.

The dispensaries are spreading throughout Florida. The state legalized medical marijuana for terminal illness in 2014, then broadened the law in 2016 to allow its use for terminal and non-terminal illness, including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and conditions of comparable severity.

The law allows physicians to prescribe medical marijuana in the form of oils, extracts, sprays, oral syringe or edibles. Dispensaries also are restricted to selling medical pot and related products and cannot sell other products such as tobacco or nicotine-infused oil. The law allows dispensaries to sell both low-potency and euphoric cannabis.

Smoking medical marijuana remains prohibited, although a Leon County Circuit Court Judge ruled it unconstitutional. The Florida Department of Health is appealing the ruling.

Florida law gives municipalities a choice — a city or town can ban dispensaries altogether, or it can allow them and treat them like pharmacies.

According to West Palm Senior Planner Paul Greilich, municipalities that have voted to ban dispensaries include Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Mangonia Park, Palm Beach Gardens and Royal Palm Beach. In Broward County, Pompano Beach, Sunrise, Margate and Coral Springs also banned medical marijuana dispensaries.

In a constitutional amendment on statewide ballots on Nov. 8, 2016, voters overwhelmingly supported legalized medical marijuana, Greilich said: Statewide, 71 percent voted for it; in Palm Beach County, 75 percent did; and in West Palm Beach, 77 percent approved it.

West Palm held off on approving dispenseries until now, while staff studied the issue and how other municipalities fared with it. But the mayor and commissioners have acknowledged the dispensaries’ public appeal and Monday it passed swiftly and with little discussion.

Greilich said city considered recommending not allowing dispensaries “on high visibility corridors,” such as Clematis Street and Rosemary Avenue but opted not to include such a restriction in Monday’s motion. “Doing so would prohibit pharmacies,” he explained.

The city’s Downtown Action Committee approved the proposed ordinance May 9 by a 7-0 vote; The Planning Board approved it May 15, by 5-1.

In addition to being at least 500 feet from schools, under state law dispensaries must have alarm and video surveillance systems, have sufficient outdoor lighting and be closed from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

At least two employees or two security guards must be on the premises at all times. And the shops are not allowed to post advertising that is visibile to the public from the street or sidewalk.

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