Published On: Mon, Feb 17th, 2020

After five years, Boca City Council gives boot to medical marijuana ban

By Dale King

Medical marijuana is no longer banned in Boca.

The Boca Raton City Council, on a sharply split vote Feb. 11, elected to allow medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits. The 3-2 vote overturns a local prohibition on access to the drug for treatment of illnesses that dates back to 2014.

Councilman Andy Thomson, who has been leading the drive for a change in a city zoning ordinance to allow stores to dispense marijuana for medical purposes, voted in favor of eliminating the weed prohibition, as did Councilwoman Monica Mayotte and Mayor Scott Singer.

Voting against lifting the prohibition on medicinal pot use were Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers and Councilwoman Andrea Levine O’Rourke. Both suggesting delaying action on the proposal until further changes to the laws controlling medical marijuana are adopted either at the state or federal level.

In fact, after the 3-2 rejection, Rodgers brought the same measure back to the floor and called for another vote on it after he added that it would go into effect June 1, 2021. He and O’Rourke voted in favor; Singer, Thomson and Mayotte voted in the negative.

The votes followed the second public hearing on a plan to eliminate the ban. As at the first hearing Jan. 28, citizens spoke both for and against it.

Among those who suggested giving the ban a boot was Shari Kaplan Stellino, founder and CEO of the medical marijuana assistance organization, Cannectd Wellness. She said the substance has helped her son overcome a central nervous system disorder to become a fully functioning 17-year-old who is about to graduate from Boca Raton High School and move on to Florida Atlantic University.

Several residents spoke in opposition, expressing concerns that a change in the zoning ordinance could have “unintended consequences” and could open the door to proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries. Some also said the presence of marijuana purchasing locations could increase crime.  Council members said studies have shown no connection between medical marijuana dispensaries and hikes in criminal activity.

The city’s development services staff, which was directed to come up with a report on the medical marijuana situation, opined that the ban should remain in effect.

Mayor Singer said the council’s “hands are tied” by state laws impacting the dispersal of medical marijuana. Once the final vote was taken, he even asked for more ideas from colleagues on how to come up with a better solution. “We have tried our best,” he added.

Councilman Thomson pointed out he was not a member of the city’s legislative panel the last time a vote was taken on the ban.

“I have no personal reason to use medical marijuana, but I have a personal story. My mother has multiple sclerosis and has for 30 years. It is a very painful ailment, one that is accompanied by tremors.”  He said she could not use medical marijuana now, but could have taken it to ease the condition in earlier years.

“To me,” said Thomson, “it is a question of compassion.” He said he was also concerned that stores selling medical marijuana could take the appearance of “deadhead” shops. “But the state law allows only well capitalized companies – very, very high class firms – to get into the business of distributing medical marijuana.”

O’Rourke pointed out that three marijuana dispensaries have opened on the other side of Boca Raton’s southern border in Deerfield Beach. However, she said she has “heard minimal outreach from the public” and has “tried to make something fit into what doesn’t fit.”

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