What Cities Will Accept or Ban Medical Marijuana

The Assistant General Counsel for the Florida League of Cities, Ryan G. Padgett, is advocating for Florida's municipalities to preemptively regulate or ban medical cannabis before Amendment 2 is voted on in November. The Florida League of Cities aims to act as a united voice for Florida's municipalities and advocates for local self governing, with over 400 cities, towns, and villages in the Sunshine State that are affiliated with the organization.

Local Authority to Regulate Medical Cannabis Unclear

“I think this is one of those circumstances where you really don’t know what is going to happen until (the state Department of Health) starts making rules and the Legislature starts looking at it,” Padgett, said, according to the Naples Daily News. “But I think that’s why cities are trying to get ahead of the curve. They want to be proactive, not reactive.” Ben Pollara, Campaign Manager for United for Care, told the Naples Daily News, “Most of the responsibility is left up to the state Department of Health and the Legislature,” and that, “I would hope in the process they give a pretty wide berth to local governments to put in place medical marijuana businesses in a way they feel fits.” Padgett told Florida Today that with SB 1030, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, and Amendment 2 coming up for a vote that, “You sort of have a lot of moving parts,” and that he thinks “the problem cities are struggling with now, you're either hitting a moving target or you don't know what target to hit.”

Florida League of Cities Recommends Preemptive Regulations

In a memo from Ryan Padgett and the Florida League of Cities, municipalities across the Sunshine State are urged to take preemptive action. “Since the Amendment leaves all discretion to the DOH and the Legislature on how the Amendment will be implemented, municipalities may wish to wait for guidance from the state. However, we do not recommend that approach,” Padgett said in the memo. The League of Cities mentions regulations that the state Department of Health has been developing for the low-THC medical cannabis program, which was created by the state legislature earlier this year, and encourages cities to develop similar local regulations for dispensaries under Amendment 2. Padgett suggests in the memo that municipalities could pass outright bans prohibiting both “medical marijuana treatment centers” as defined by Amendment 2, and “dispensing organizations” as defined by the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014. Padgett also suggests local governments may want to address the impacts treatment centers and dispensaries might have on the city, such as increased traffic and parking problems, the potential problem of cannabis odors could affecting surrounding buildings, and suggesting that because dispensaries largely deal in cash, that they would become targets for robberies and other crimes.

League Asks Cities to Consider Smoking Bans, Zoning Regulations, Setback Requirements, Permits, and Other Regulations

Padgett notes that zoning issues could arise, suggesting medical cannabis businesses be kept to industrial zoned districts, and like the state Department of Health's draft rules for the low-THC medical cannabis program, requiring dispensaries to be at least 500 feet away from schools. In the memo, Padgett says that municipalities may want to go even further in their setback requirements. Security is another issue Pagett says municipalities should consider, suggesting municipalities use security standards similar to those the state has set for convenience stores. Creating permits and licensing requirements for medical cannabis businesses are among the other regulations suggested, although under Amendment 2, municipalities would not be allowed to levy a sales tax on medical cannabis, other licensing fees could be levied by the city. Another of Padgett and the Florida League of Cities suggestions was to create local public medical cannabis smoking bans.

The impact of medical cannabis and related businesses may have on utilities and infrastructure should also be considered by municipalities, according to Padgett, especially for municipalities which operate municipal utilities. Those which operate municipal utilities may want to change their policy on use of electricity. Claiming that the processing of cannabis involves highly flammable materials, Padgett also suggested taking a local government's fire services into account and how they would be affected. Some municipalities may want to change their employment policies to require drug testing, and to decide if employees would be discharged for a positive test result for cannabis, even if the employee had a legitimate medical use. Padgett says that municipalities may fire employees who use medical cannabis, because while it may be legal under state law, federal law still prohibits it. Finally, Padgett again suggested modeling local regulations after the state Department of Health's draft rules for the low-THC medical cannabis program, with regards to creating policies to allow law enforcement to enter dispensaries and access a Compassionate Use Registry, or similar patient log.