Published On: Mon, Jan 27th, 2020

Boca Council to begin process of lifting ban on medical marijuana

By Dale King

The Boca Raton City Council is expected this week to begin the process of lifting the municipality’s ban on the dispensing of medical marijuana.

The first of two public hearings on an ordinance to remove “medical marijuana treatment center dispensing facilities” from the list of prohibited uses will be held during Tuesday’s council meeting at 6 p.m. in City Hall.

No vote will be taken that night, says the agenda.  Another hearing will be held during the first regular council meeting in February, when the vote is likely to be taken after the completion of the hearing.

Boca Raton was one of the first municipalities in Palm Beach County to place a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in October 2014. The vote was unanimous. Since then, the council has been revisiting the item annually and extending the moratorium each time.

Councilman Andy Thomson is leading the effort to lift the ban on medical marijuana, pointing out he was not on the city’s legislative panel when the last vote was taken.

He said he sees support growing among council members for making medicinal marijuana available within the city since his election and that of Councilwoman Monica Mayotte.

“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.”

The matter of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to open in the city was discussed at length during a recent council workshop. City officials ultimately directed staff to prepare an ordinance on allowing medical marijuana dispensaries after hearing from a number of experts and residents with strong feelings about making the dispensaries available within the city limits.

“I join with my colleagues in directing staff to draft regulations that would give residents access and revisit our zoning laws in the city,” said Mayor Scott Singer, adding that the size of the facility and the distance of separation from other facilities should be considered.

“We’ve been besieged by attacks on Home Rule [from state and federal government],” the mayor said. “Had we not had this, the City of Boca Raton would likely have had something in place by now.”

Neighboring cities Lake Worth and Deerfield Beach allow dispensaries, but both cities have had to write new local rules to help keep these sites located specific distances from each other and away from places such as schools.

Under state law, dispensaries must be treated the same as pharmacies, which makes passing local rules difficult.

The first attempt to legalize medical marijuana at the state level failed in November 2014. The second effort – a referendum on the Nov. 8, 2016 election ballot — succeeded by overwhelming majority of voters. More than 71 percent of Floridians cast ballots in favor of medical marijuana – making Florida the 26th state to make marijuana legal for medical use

Amendment 2, and its expanded list of qualifying medical conditions, went into effect on Jan. 3, 2017.

Medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

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