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Hazy about medical marijuana laws in Florida? Here are the basics. Wochit

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Medicinal marijuana dispensaries will be banned from Collier County until at least the end of the year.

Commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday to keep the dispensaries from opening in Collier until Dec. 31 to give the county a chance to lobby state lawmakers for more control over the number of dispensaries that could open.

Some commissioners want to wait for legislators to either get sued or change a law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June before committing to allowing the dispensaries or voting for a longer-term ban. 

If nothing changes by December, commissioners could lengthen the ban.

The state law gives counties two options: Ban dispensaries outright or to treat them like pharmacies.

If allowed, counties wouldn't have any say over how many could open or where they could open, except for keeping them from within 500 feet of a school.

But since Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment allowing medicinal marijuana, Commissioner Andy Solis, a lawyer, said he doesn't see how a county can constitutionally ban a dispensary.

"This is a constitutional right now," Solis said. "To say that a county can opt out is like saying a county can opt out of free speech or bearing arms."

County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said he doesn't think the state law will hold up in court.

"I think it's unconstitutional and there's going to be litigation on it," Klatzkow said. "The legislature did a terrible job on this."

Commissioners Penny Taylor and Donna Fiala said they were in favor of a longer-term ban because the law negates any zoning limitations the county could impose.

The county should allow dispensaries eventually if it can control the number, Commissioner Burt Saunders said.

"I don't want to send a message that we don’t want to have any dispensaries here," Saunders said. "I want to make sure patients that need this don't have to drive to another county to get it. But we need to have the ability to have some control. Right now we don't have any."

Allowing the dispensaries is a question of compassion, resident Nick Garulay said.

"We're in the worst heroin epidemic in history, which people are turning to when they run out of pills and prescription opioids," he said. "I don't see how it is even possible to think that we shouldn't allow a natural alternative to those pills. Where is the compassion?"

But seeing the dispensaries pop up along street corners in Collier County will only convince kids and teenagers that its use is harmless, resident Bill Barton said.

Barten said his daughter has bipolar disorder and he saw her turn to marijuana to self-medicate, only to move on to cocaine and crack.

"Don't tell me it's not a gateway drug, because I know better," he said. "I've seen how it progresses."

The state has set limits on the number of dispensaries that can open in each region of the state, but not in individual counties. The law divides Florida into five sections. Each section will be allowed a certain number of dispensaries based on its population.

With 17 percent of the state's population, Southwest Florida would be allowed about 70 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, which the Charlotte County Commission did Tuesday.

More: Medical marijuana dispensary ban extended in Bonita Springs

More: Gov. Rick Scott: 'I absolutely will sign' medical marijuana bill

 

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