WINTER GARDEN – Following new state legislation pertaining to medical marijuana, Winter Garden has drafted an ordinance that seeks to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from its boundaries.
The new state bill, which was signed by Governor Rick Scott June 23, establishes restrictions that provide local government officials with only two options: Ban all dispensaries or give up the right to regulate them.
As written, the state law authorizes a county or municipality to ban medical marijuana retail facilities. However, if the local government chooses to not ban medical marijuana dispensaries, it is prohibited from establishing limits on the number and location of such facilities.
However, Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said the city’s reasons for considering a ban do not involve the restrictive regulations, but the risk of inviting a potential increase in crime, as well as the lack of a need for a physical retail store.
“There have been studies that show that for some reason the dispensaries lead to an increase in crime in the surrounding areas of the dispensary ... and we don’t see any reason that we should have to take on that risk,” Bollhoefer said. “Because, as I stated, the marijuana growers can just deliver it to anyone who has a prescription.”
Winter Garden is home to Knox Nursery, which has a state license to grow medical cannabis for home delivery and has been doing just that since it unveiled its new laboratory and greenhouse December 2016. The company delivers medical cannabis products to patients suffering from a number of debilitating conditions, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc.
Given their ability to deliver the products, Bollhoefer and his colleagues argue that there is no need for a physical medical marijuana dispensary in their city. Bollhoefer also raised the question of why marijuana products can’t just be distributed from pharmacies.
“And we don’t believe that there’s is any real justification to have medical marijuana dispensaries," Bollhoefer said. “For instance, if it is indeed determined, and it has been determined by voters that medical marijuana has a medical use, then it would make more sense to just sell them in regular pharmacies – where they sell other drugs. Why should marijuana if it is indeed has a medical use be treated differently?”
Bruce Knox, the CEO of Knox Nursery, said he wasn’t surprised to hear that Winter Garden is leaning toward a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries but he respects their decision. Knox said he doesn’t expect the ban will negatively affect their operations in the area.
“But it really has no effect on us because this is just a retail dispensary within the city limits, and we don’t have one there and don’t have one planned within the city limits,” Knox said.
Knox, who said he hasn’t personally seen an increase in crime in the areas surrounding his company’s finished retail dispensaries across the state, believes some local governments that pass temporary moratoriums and permanent bans might be driven by a “knee-jerk” reaction fueled by the fear of what a store that sells medical marijuana may look like.
“What they’re afraid of isn’t what we’re doing here," Knox said. "And I can’t speak for all the dispensing organizations, I haven’t been to anyone else’s dispensaries, but from what I have seen in pictures, they are beautiful retail establishments. There’s nothing seedy about them. And that’s what the city of Winter Garden or other municipalities that are putting these moratoriums or permanent bans in place fear – it’s a fear of something that’s likely never going to happen here in the state of Florida."
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]