The city of Winter Park is on the verge of closing its doors to medical marijuana dispensaries – a decision that the majority of the city commission feels is the right choice for the city.
Winter Park city leaders on Monday, July 24, took the first step toward banning medical marijuana dispensaries by endorsing the first reading of an ordinance that would keep them out of city limits.
It was the city’s first response to medical marijuana dispensaries in the wake of Gov. Rick Scott signing the medical marijuana bill into law last month. The state legislation on medical marijuana preempts any local regulations in place but gives cities the opportunity to ban dispensaries if they choose to do so, Planning and Community Development Manager Jeff Briggs said.
Unless the facilities are banned outright, the city has little control over where the dispensaries go or how many can be established in the city, Briggs said. They would be allowed anywhere a pharmacy is allowed, which includes commercial streets such as U.S. 17-92, Aloma Avenue, Fairbanks Avenue, New England Avenue, Orange Avenue and Park Avenue.
“We don’t know what the other cities in Orange County are going to do, but if we were the only one not to prohibit and everyone else prohibited, all the dispensaries and treatment centers would be coming to Winter Park,” Briggs said. “Certainly, the prudent thing to do — and you can always amend later — is prohibit now and see what others are going to do.”
The majority of the city commissioners agreed the ban made sense and said they believe the city should have control over where the dispensaries are placed.
“The entire thing is a political play, and frankly, I’m very disappointed in the state for throwing this political banana under our feet,” City Commissioner Peter Weldon said. “Perhaps someone at the state might want to assume responsibility for their job and not throw it at us. I’m not for or against medical marijuana as a political issue. I’m for what’s right in the city of Winter Park.”
The ordinance also has a safeguard in case the current state law is changed or overturned in court: an automatic moratorium within the city for a year.
“That would give the city time to understand the impact of the court ruling and to devise an alternative ordinance that would comply with whatever the court ruling was, otherwise we’d be in a limbo where we had no rules,” Briggs said. “They could locate anywhere.”
The state law passed by the voters last year will eliminate regulations Winter Park had put in place in 2014. That ordinance limited potential dispensaries to industrial areas. However, that language will be removed from the charter because it no longer is permitted, Briggs said.
Commissioners voted to pass the ban on first reading by a count of 4-1, with Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel dissenting.
Sprinkel reasoned that state voters had spoken and that local municipalities should acknowledge that desire.
“Seventy-one percent of the voting public said we should make medical marijuana legal,” Sprinkel said. “It’s hard for me to vote against 71% of the public. I voted on what I believe. I believe that my job is to make (medical marijuana) available to the public. It’s not about me.”
Winter Park commissioners also voted keep the city’s tentative millage rate the same for the 10th consecutive year.
The rate of 4.0923 has been in place for the past nine years and represents $4.09 in property tax for each $1,000 of taxable value.
Weldon moved to lower the operating millage rate to “a number that reflects a reduction in total property tax revenue of $500,000 from the presented budget.”
That motion failed in a vote, while the current millage rate passed 3-2.
The rate still can be lowered prior to the approval of the budget, which is scheduled for Sept. 25.