Local governments get ready for legalized medical marijuana


By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog

MIAMI — Local lawmakers are ramping up plans to regulate medical marijuana, should voters says yes to November’s ballot question.

GET READY: Dispensaries of medical marijuana might soon be part of the new picture of hot spot in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

“We are just beginning to have discussions,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala. “However, until the rules are written by the Legislature, we are not sure what authority we will have.

Most counties and cities want to have the say on dispensary locations, keeping them away from schools or tourist hot spots. Orange County officials already are moving to block pot dispensaries from the famed International Drive tourist area and are looking at the possibility of allowing the marijuana outlets in industrial areas.

Other cities, however, are a bit more pragmatic. Cocoa Beach city commissioners approved a dispensary in a prominent spot by the pier, and another near the Ron Jon Surf shop, a fixture in the surf town since 1959.

It wasn’t exactly planned. With restrictions blocking dispensaries near schools, homes, churches and main roads, officials say the pier and surf shop areas were the only locations available in the four-square-mile city.

But not all Florida counties and cities are pre-planning in the event voters OK medical marijuana in the Nov. 4 election.

Vero Beach City Councilmember Wesley S. Davis said it’s too early for local governments to jump into the regulation game.

“Because of the state regulation of the authorized centers and their limited geographic nature, and due to the hypothetical nature of the constitutional amendment, and its state regulation of medicinal marijuana, the county has not moved forward with any legislation yet to regulate these uses.”

An informal survey found that Baker, Monroe, Lee and DeSoto counties have no immediate plans to write local regulations.

The Florida Bar Association’s Board of Governors, however, is freeing its members to legally guide clients who want to break into the burgeoning industry.

And marketing and consulting firms such as The MedMenand training centers such as Florida Medical Marijuana Treatment Center Institute also are gearing up for a possible pot boom.

“There is a lot we can learn as Florida businessmen when we study the development of the industry in other states, where laws are already in place,” Daniel Curtis, president of Florida MMTC, said in a statement.

While recent opinion polls show strong support for legalized medical marijuana, concerns remain over the disparity between state regulations and federal law.

John Filizzola, a spokesman for MedMen, said landlords and dispensary managers could be at risk for arrest under federal law, even if medical marijuana is legal under state law. And, he said, those opposed to medical marijuana have been voicing concern over people operating vehicles while under the influence.

Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter.