By:  Emily G. Pierce

In 2016 the citizens of the State of Florida voted to legalize the use and prescription of medical marijuana to alleviate pain by those suffering from terminal, chronic, or debilitating medical conditions.  The marijuana cannot be smoked, but can be consumed, vaped, or sprayed.  In June of this year the Governor signed legislation regulating how patients can qualify and receive the drug.  Local governments are now faced with the task of determining, at the local level, how to regulate dispensing facilities.

On November 6th, following a public hearing, the City Council of the City of Jacksonville Beach voted, on first reading, to ban all medical marijuana treatment center dispensing facilities from the incorporated area of the City.  Ordinance 2017-8098, if passed, will include definitions of “Medical Marijuana Treatment Center” and “Medical Marijuana Treatment Center Dispensing Facility” and will create a new section of the City’s Land Development Regulations prohibiting any such facilities within the City.  The staff noted that the State’s enabling legislation essentially only gives a local government two options with regard to medical marijuana dispensing facilities; if they are allowed they must be regulated the same as pharmacies or they  may be banned.  The staff expressed concern that while it would be acceptable to permit dispensing facilities within the Commercial General (C-2) zoning category, based upon State law, a dispensing facility would also have to be permitted within the Central Business District (CBD) zoning category.  Commissioners Doherty and Hoffman spoke in opposition to the proposed ban noting that 81% of the voters supported the statewide referendum and that the City has doctors and a hospital that are actively researching and prescribing medical marijuana at this time.  Mayor Latham spoke in support of the ban stating that while the community voted for medical marijuana, they did not vote to have a dispensary in the City.  Mayor Latham noted that the City is small and densely populated so there are not many places where a dispensary could be located that would not have a negative impact on its neighbors.  The ban passed on the first reading by a vote of 4 to 3.