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Regulating medical marijuana a high priority for Deltona
By Al Everson
posted Aug 5, 2014 - 1:35:39pm
Realizing voters may pass a Florida constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in a little more than three months, Deltona leaders want to be ready to regulate the new business.
"This deals not with recreational marijuana, but with medicinal," Mayor John Masiarczyk said, as he set the tone for a City Commission workshop on the topic July 28.
The City Commission is eyeing where in Deltona medical marijuana may be sold and perhaps the hours of operation for dispensing it. Are Deltona's officials prepared?
"We had an issue with hot-dog cart. Can you imagine what will arise with this?" Commissioner Anthony Bellizio asked his colleagues, as they discussed a draft ordinance.
Bellizio was referring to the City Commission's decision to revisit the zoning law code-enforcement officers used to close down a hot-dog vendor operating at a church in a residential zone. He commended his peers for taking a "proactive approach" to regulating medical marijuana.
The leaders learned a private group known as the Coalition Against Hunger intends to buy the aging Deltona Plaza shopping center and set up "a grow operation" for medical marijuana, according to Wayne Rodgers, a leader of the group.
Rodgers and another member spoke at the workshop.
"The money from this we're going to use to help solve the homeless problem here in Deltona," said Smiley Thurston of the Coalition Against Hunger.
Ellen Juliano endorsed the City Commission's move to enact an ordinance.
"I am really happy to see you guys are being progressive with this," she said.
Juliano said she had gathered petitions for the medical-marijuana question to be placed on the ballot. The signers, she said, were "not your potheads; these were people that were suffering."
The draft version of Deltona’s ordinance called for medical marijuana to be dispensed only in C-3 (Heavy Commercial) zones. Deltona currently has only one such zone, along Doyle Road on the city's south edge.
"People could ask for a zoning change," said City Attorney Becky Vose, who wrote the proposed law. "One other option is to put it in industrial. That's where adult entertainment would be."
That suggestion raised some eyebrows.
"This is for very ill people, like cancer patients," Commissioner Zenaida Denizac said. "It's a medication."
Commissioners reached a consensus in favor of allowing the drug to be sold in any commercial zone, whether C-1 (Neighborhood Commercial), C-2 (General Commercial), or C-3.
Masiarczyk said the city needs to develop its own regulatory process for medical marijuana, because the state has set few standards.
"The Legislature has done a disservice to every city,” Masiarczyk said. "If it's medical, why wouldn't you buy it at CVS, Walgreens? ... It shouldn't be put to the voters in a way that they don't know what they're voting on."
The state will license the dispensaries and restrict the cultivation of medical marijuana, but Masiarczyk complained about a lack of specific controls.
"I say, shame on the Legislature," the mayor said.
Commissioner Chris Nabicht called for medical marijuana to be sold "any place we allow a liquor store or a drugstore."
One provision in the draft ordinance would bar the sale of medical marijuana within 2,500 feet of a church. That could pose a problem, said Larry Kent, who owns retail properties in Deltona, because a medical-marijuana dispensary may want to locate in a commercial zone or shopping center where a church meets.
"We have a lot of churches in commercial spaces because they can't afford to get the space right now," Kent said.
Commissioner Webster Barnaby recommended a separation of "five miles from churches."
How Deltona controls the medical-marijuana trade will be fodder for lively debate, if comments from commissioners are a fair indicator.
"It will end up in the hands of kids," Denizac said.
Masiarczyk said the prescription drug is different from the illegal substance.
"This medical marijuana doesn't produce the high that the '60s marijuana did," the mayor said.
Should Deltona welcome medical marijuana?
"It's going to be a legal business, no different from selling a bottle of Jack Daniels," Nabicht said. "This should be on our radar as No. 1 for economic development. ... Folks, this is business."
Not so, countered Barnaby.
"I think it is absolutely incomprehensible to say that this is something we should be looking for for economic development," he said. He said the city's image would be harmed by a large number of dispensaries.
The draft ordinance remains subject to revision.
"I think this is a work in progress," Vice Mayor Heidi Herzberg said.
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