Hazy about medical marijuana laws in Florida? Here are the basics. Lisa Broadt/TCPalm.com
Collier commissioners are set to decide Tuesday whether to allow medicinal marijuana dispensaries in the county.
In June, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that essentially gives local governments two options: Ban dispensaries or treat them almost the same as any pharmacy.
The law ends Collier County's efforts to find something of a middle ground after voters approved a constitutional amendment to make medicinal marijuana more available.
If allowed, Collier officials wouldn't be able to limit the number of dispensaries that open in the county.
Collier wouldn't be able to charge dispensaries for zoning or licensing fees any more than it charges a pharmacy.
And it wouldn't be able to deny zoning to a dispensary in any location that a pharmacy could open, other than to keep dispensaries from opening within 500 feet of a school.
What the county can decide is yes or no.
"It's tied our hands in my opinion," said Collier Commissioner Penny Taylor, who wants to ban dispensaries from the county. "It's just the lack of local control.
"We have certainly the folks that need this for their illness, but we have the whole community at large to think about," Taylor said. "That’s the big picture."
Collier County voters supported the amendment in November, 64 percent to 36 percent.
Commissioners quickly passed a moratorium, temporarily banning the dispensaries until they could write zoning rules that would limit the number that could open in the county based on the population. The county had been leaning toward allowing one dispensary for every 70,000 people.
That limit is critical, said Commissioner Burt Saunders.
"The numbers need to be limited because the last thing we want is a medical marijuana dispensary that's not financially viable," he said. "Then the issue is going to be: Are they selling to a black market?"
Since medicinal marijuana is a lawful drug, the county should permit the facilities necessary to sell it, Saunders said.
"But we have to do it in a way that's rational," he said.
Saunders said last week that he still was reviewing the language of the new state law to see whether it leaves counties any wiggle room through zoning to limit the number of dispensaries.
The state has set limits that are close to the numbers the county considered. The law divides Florida into five sections. Each section will be allowed a certain number of dispensaries based on its population.
The state is immediately allowing 17 growers and treatment centers to open a maximum of 25 dispensaries each, or a total of 425 dispensaries in Florida.
That will grow as more patients register. For every 100,000 patients that qualify, the state will license four new centers, each of which will be allowed 25 new dispensaries.
With 17 percent of the state's population, Southwest Florida will be allowed 72 dispensaries to start. Those dispensaries would be split among the counties of Collier, Lee, Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Manatee, Okeechobee and Sarasota, minus any that choose to ban them.
To go a step further, Collier County has a 10th of the population of Southwest Florida. If it received a 10th of the dispensaries allowed, which is not guaranteed under the law, seven or eight would open in the county.
If commissioners stuck with Saunders' goal of one dispensary per 70,000 people, the county would have a maximum of five or six dispensaries, depending on rounding.
Lee County has no plans to ban dispensaries, said spokeswoman Betsy Clayton.
"We're just treating them like pharmaceuticals," she said.
Sarasota and Hendry counties, like Collier, still are deciding, representatives said.