County weighs marijuana rules

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By Sean Arnold

The state has begun clarifying its position on regulating marijuana dispensaries after voters passed a ballot measure last November to allow the sale of medical marijuana in Florida.

Levy County currently has a moratorium banning the sale of medical marijuana, but it will soon have to make a somewhat longer-term decision.

At the recent meeting of the Board of Levy County Commissioners, Board chair John Meeks reported some of his findings on the issue from the Florida Association of Counties Conference.

Meeks says the county faces two options: issue an outright ban in the county, or allow dispensaries to sell medical marijuana without the ability to limit or zone the businesses.

The Florida Association of Counties, according to Meeks, expects a challenge in the courts for the first county that chooses the No. 1 option. Moreover, municipalities within the county would still be allowed to override a ban to allow dispensaries, according to County Attorney Anne Bast Brown.

And residents in Levy County would still be allowed to purchase medical marijuana through the mail from another county, even if a county-wide ban were in place.

But Meeks and FAC see the second option as excessively undermining the authority of Florida’s counties.

“We wanted to have ability to regulate the placement of growth facilities and retail dispensaries,” Meeks said. “They didn’t follow the guidelines of what the counties wanted, what the Association wanted. The state kept total control of growth facilities, permitting and licensing and all that.

“You can’t regulate them any differently than you would a pharmacy. They can go into any commercial retail district.”

There is a regulation stipulating a minimum distance between dispensaries and schools, Brown said.

Medical marijuana is treated like a prescription drug, which prevents the county or state from collecting sales taxes on its purchase.

Meeks said the county could decide to ban dispensaries in the meantime, but then allow them at a later date if the status of marijuana moves from medical to recreational. Sales tax could then be collected off marijuana in the latter case.

Brown said the state is implementing a “vertical integration model,” which requires dispensaries to also grow and process the marijuana, a hurdle that, if it survives legal challenge, will presumably limit the number of potential dispensaries.

Brown said she needs direction from the BOCC to begin writing regulations, and says the Florida Association of County Attorneys’ Medical Marijuana Task Force is preparing to provide legal opinions on the issue.