Winter Garden is on track to prohibit medical marijuana dispensing facilities within city limits, after approving the first reading of the ordinance that would allow it to do so.
City leaders unanimously approved the first reading of Ordinance 17-24 during the Thursday, July 13, commission meeting. Although roughly 70% of Florida voters were in favor of legalizing medical marijuana last fall, the problem city leaders faced was that dispensaries are treated the same as pharmacies in terms of zoning.
Residents in attendance expressed their disapproval of the ordinance and urged city leaders to allow medical marijuana dispensaries.
“I think it’s very important to be aware of the many medical benefits (of marijuana) as shown by many scientific studies,” Winter Garden resident Sherri Allen told commissioners. “I believe the provision in the recent state law which allows cities and municipalities to ban medical marijuana facilities merely provides a way to circumvent the will of the citizens of Florida who voted to legalize it. …A ban in the city will unfairly restrict availability. …I urge you not to leave Winter Garden in the past but embrace the future in regard to medical marijuana and not pass this ordinance.”
Winter Garden resident Joseph Richardson added that dispensaries within city limits would also serve people outside of the city.
“I know that some people, perhaps even you, have a strong opinion about cannabis, but please don’t let that interfere with your analysis of the facts,” Richardson said during the public hearing.
But city leaders have their hands tied by state law, which doesn’t allow municipalities to designate special zoning rules, and the other option is to ban dispensaries outright.
The ban would not affect Knox Medical’s Winter Garden nursery, which is home to a medical marijuana processing center and offers home delivery.
“We want to make sure it is clear that Knox Medical’s operations are not considered dispensing at retail and wouldn’t be prohibited under the terms of the current ordinance as written,” said Tara Tedrow, attorney for Knox Medical.
“Our primary concern is the fact that the state didn’t give us really any leeway when it comes to our zoning.” - City Manager Mike Bollhoefer
City attorney Kurt Ardaman said that the ordinance does not stop the home-delivery operations for a patient who has a prescription and properly requests delivery of medical marijuana, whether it’s distributed from Knox or another facility.
“Our primary concern is the fact that the state didn’t give us really any leeway when it comes to our zoning,” said City Manager Mike Bollhoefer. “They said, pretty much, we have to zone them as pharmacies are. It was mentioned about alcohol, well, remember alcohol is a legal, recreational use and we have far greater control over where we allow alcohol. …Marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug and we don’t have near as much control on the zoning on marijuana, so we feel as until such time it (the state) clarifies a greater ability to zone it that we should do a ban.”
Bollhoefer previously reminded citizens at the June 22 commission meeting that city leaders can change this if desired at a later date, adding that medical users can still receive by home delivery and Knox Nursery’s permit allows them to dispense through deliveries.
The second reading and public hearing for this ordinance is scheduled for the July 27 city commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the City Hall Commission Chambers. Any residents with questions or concerns may contact Winter Garden City Hall at (407) 656-4111.
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].