FL: Orange County Votes Unanimously To Allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

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Ron Strider

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In a surprisingly strong move, Orange County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday night to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county.

Rules from the Florida Legislature dictate municipal governments only have two options regarding dispensaries — they can either ban them outright or regulate them like any other pharmacy. Mayor Teresa Jacobs called that choice a "poison pill" at a Tuesday public hearing on two ordinances — one would ban medical cannabis dispensaries in unincorporated areas while the second would allow dispensaries with added restrictions, though both permit cultivation and processing. Jacobs and other commissioners say they were trying to uphold the will of 71 percent of Floridians who voted to expand medical marijuana via a constitutional amendment in 2016.

Orange County's decision breaks the pattern of local cities, including Apopka, Winter Garden and Winter, who've chosen an outright ban on dispensaries. The City of Orlando has two clinics it says are "grandfathered" into existing regulations. Advocates say two dispensaries are not enough though — patients, many who have disabilities, need accessible clinics closer to their homes to avoid exorbitant delivery fees.

After the vote, Jacobs said despite the fact that people think elected officials don't listen, many came to voice their concerns.

"What I love about local government is you can show up at this hearing, you can stand up and speak and you can change the course of history," she says. "And that's what we saw happen here. And that's pretty cool."

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