Orlando is preparing to ban new medical marijuana dispensaries, blaming state rules that prevent local governments from regulating the shops any differently than a drug store.
Two other Central Florida cities, Winter Garden and Winter Park, also plan to consider banning dispensaries.
Knox Cannabis Dispensary opened the region’s first medical marijuana shop June 2 on North Orange Avenue in Ivanhoe Village. A second shop, planned by Trulieve on North Orange Blossom Trail, is in the permitting process.
They may be the last in Orlando for now. City commissioners are expected to discuss a ban of new dispensaries July 10, according to a legal notice.
“Although we are supportive of medical-marijuana dispensaries, the state has essentially taken away our ability to reasonably regulate this land use in our city,” Orlando spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser said in an email to the Orlando Sentinel.
New state rules give local governments the authority to ban medical marijuana retail outlets but forbid regulating the dispensaries more harshly than pharmacies, which often are located near neighborhoods, churches, parks, schools and each other.
Some cities, including Orlando, had adopted rules to prevent an “over concentration” of dispensaries.
But the state rules negate local ordinances and put city and county officials in a quandary.
“Everybody has questions,” said A. Kurt Ardaman, a lawyer with Fishback Dominick who helped write proposed ordinances for Winter Garden and Winter Park that would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries in both cities, for whom he provides legal counsel.
“It’s an unusual situation to have these extreme positons,” he said.
In November, 71 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical marijuana.
But Lafser said the state’s rules will “potentially create an unfair burden for our neighborhoods…”
“At this time, we feel the only ability we have as a local government to regulate medical cannabis dispensaries is to prohibit them completely — while we analyze how we might refine how pharmacies are defined in the city code,” she said. “We do expect to bring further changes after this review.”
The language drafted for Winter Park and Winter Garden cites a 2009 “white paper” developed by the California Police Chiefs Association that suggests dispensaries may contribute to “a secondary market for illegal, street-level distribution of marijuana.”
“I definitely would like to see that ordinance come forward as quickly as possibly,” said Winter Park Commissioner Carolyn Cooper, whose first-blush opinion was echoed by three fellow commissioners.
Earlier this week, Vero Beach on Florida’s east coast became the first city to impose a ban on new medical-cannabis dispensaries since the state issued its rules.
“We didn’t want them all over the city,” said James O’Connor, Vero Beach’s city manager.
Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled the voter effort for medical marijuana, said he always expected some cities would ban dispensaries within their borders, despite overwhelming voter approval.
“They’re only punishing their own citizens with a ban, making it more inconvenient for those who have been prescribed medical marijuana,” Morgan said. “If the only dispensary was in Seminole County, people would drive there from Winter Garden.”
Many Florida cities and counties, including Orange, Lake and Seminole counties in Central Florida, extended moratoriums or temporary bans on medical-marijuana dispensaries.
“Some of them are trying to figure out what they want to do,” said Erika Branchcomb, a spokeswoman for the Florida League of Cities.
Adam Sharon, spokesman for Knox Cannabis, said governments may be confused about the rules or uncertain of the impacts of dispensaries, which provided prescription marijuana products for patients with cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy and other debilitating conditions.
“This is a brave new world coming to Florida, a new industry, a new field,” Sharon said.
About 17,000 medical-marijuana patients are registered with the state, but Florida’s registry is expected to swell to more than a quarter million in the next three years.
Vicki Boell, who uses medical cannabis to quell chronic muscle spasms, said she was disappointed to hear of possible bans.
“It doesn’t sound very good,” said Boell, 53, of Orlando.
Staffer Ryan Gillespie contributed to this report. Stephen Hudak can be reached at 407-650-6361, [email protected] or on Twitter @Bearlando.