Hazy about medical marijuana laws in Florida? Here are the basics. Lisa Broadt/TCPalm.com
No medical marijuana will be sold in Bonita Springs in the near future.
The City Council voted to extend a moratorium banning marijuana dispensaries until March 2, 2018. It can be ended by a council vote at any time.
Worry about lax location restrictions is a main cause for the delay. The current state law forces Bonita Springs to treat any medical marijuana dispensary as a pharmacy.
Pharmacies do not have many locational restrictions in the city. They can be built in places like strip malls or in residential areas.
The city cannot circumvent the pharmacy requirement. City staff has said the Legislature likely will make changes to the dispensary law, and the moratorium should stop any new marijuana retail shops from opening until then.
However, waiting out the Legislature will take time and could stop the possibility of any dispensaries coming to the city.
Only a limited number of dispensaries can be built. Bonita Springs is lumped into a region restricted to about 70 total dispensaries. The region includes Collier, Lee, Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Manatee, Okeechobee and Sarasota counties.
This total can grow as more people obtain medical marijuana prescriptions.
The longer Bonita Springs waits to allow dispensaries, the more time other communities have to welcome such shops.
“I think we should go forward with (the moratorium) because we can cancel it whenever we want,” Councilor Amy Quaremba said. “You see these small towns opening their arms, so to speak, to the distribution system … I personally think we should have one in Bonita Springs, maybe two.”
The city can take other approaches, City Attorney Audrey Vance said.
“We need to either tighten our regulations on pharmacies — and that might be the way to go because everyone always thinks a pharmacy is CVS or Walgreens, but it’s not,” she said. “It’s more inclusive than that.”
Changes likely would restrict where a pharmacy — and a dispensary — can be built. They could be kept out of residential areas, for example.
The only hard-and-fast rule is dispensaries cannot be built within 500 feet of a school.
“Nothing says you have to change your regulations,” Vance said. “You can just allow it and see how the market addresses it once that occurs. You could feel (the regulation) is adequate.”
Regardless of if Bonita Springs gets a dispensary, residents with a prescription can still get medication elsewhere. Delivery services with couriers are sprouting up around the state.
“We already have three vendors that are interested in (Bonita Springs),” Vance said. “There are some already planned for south Fort Myers and North Fort Myers.”