New rules ahead for dispensing medical marijuana

Voters statewide overwhelmingly said they want more people with debilitating illnesses to receive the benefits of medical marijuana.

But, approval of the constitutional amendment in the Nov. 8 general election is only a first step in expanding an existing, but limited, medical marijuana program.

State lawmakers and health department officials will have a say in what comes next.

TitleIn the interim, Pasco County commissioners are considering local zoning rules to restrict dispensaries to industrially zoned areas of the county. They also are considering a one-year extension on a moratorium that bans the cultivation, processing and dispensing of cannabis, which is used to produce medical marijuana.

The current moratorium expires on Dec. 31.

“This moratorium is to keep things from popping up outside of what you’re already proposing, until the legislature acts next year,” said Kristi Sims, an assistant county attorney.

According to the newly approved constitutional amendment, the Florida Department of Health has six months to issue guidelines for expanding the state’s current program.

However, lawmakers during the 2017 legislative session could put their imprint on the process as well.

Currently, a low level form of medical marijuana, known as Charlotte’s web, is legal in Florida for patients with certain seizure disorders. Terminally ill patients can qualify for stronger potencies of medical marijuana.

Based on state law, to date, only six dispensaries are licensed to distribute medical marijuana.

New state rules would allow more illnesses to be treated with medical marijuana, and more potent forms of medical marijuana as well. The number of dispensaries also is expected to grow.

On Nov. 29, Pasco County commissioners reviewed a proposed ordinance establishing rules of operation for dispensaries. In addition to locations within industrial zones, dispensaries would be at least 1,000 feet from establishments such as schools, day care centers, churches, pharmacies and drug treatment facilities. They could be no closer than 500 feet from a residence. And, a one-mile distance would be required between each dispensary.

Public hearings, and votes by county commissioners, on the moratorium and zoning regulations will be on Dec. 13 at 1:30 p.m., at the historic Pasco County Courthouse, at 37918 Meridian Ave., in Dade City.

Published December 7, 2016

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