The Dade City Commission during a workshop session directed city staff to draft an amendment to the city’s land development regulations that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries within one of the city’s zoning districts.
Commissioners, at their Sept. 24 workshop, indicated that the dispensaries should be allowed in the general commercial zoning district.
That zoning district generally spans U.S. 301/U.S. 98 south and north of town and certain pockets of the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) district, but avoids much of the city’s historic downtown main street and central business district.
The amended ordinance would require any future standalone pharmacies and drug stores to locate within the general commercial district only, as Florida statutes prevent municipalities from enacting regulations that restrict dispensaries more so than traditional pharmacies.
However, existing pharmacies in other zoning districts would be grandfathered in and would be able to continue to operate as a legal non-conforming entity.
The workshop session set direction only.
Any drafted ordinance will come before the city’s planning board and have two public hearings before a formal commission vote.
The majority of commissioners concurred that limiting dispensaries and pharmacies to the general commercial district would offer convenient access for local residents facing debilitating conditions, and still preserve the historical integrity of the downtown area’s specialty shops and mom-and-pop businesses.
“The general commercial (district) seems to accomplish what we’re trying to do,” Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez said. “We’re trying to find places within our municipality limits that we can have these (medical marijuana) facilities without adversely affecting merchants’ concerns, but also be sensitive to the needs of folks that are in need.”
Commissioner Jim Shive agreed the general commercial district “seems to have less impact to the direct downtown around the merchants,” but noted he is concerned about some existing pharmacies being deemed legal nonconforming.
“I think we all want to be very compassionate people,” he said, “but we all want to do the right thing.”
Commissioner Scott Black was the lone commissioner who favored an outright ban medical on marijuana treatment centers within the municipality.
He said dispensaries are “readily available” throughout Pasco County and have become more accessible compared to a few years ago.
The county presently has three medical cannabis dispensaries in New Port Richey and another situated near the Land O’ Lakes-Lutz county line.
“It’s much more convenient to go 20 miles now than it was before (Amendment 2) was passed when you couldn’t get it at all,” Black said.
Black also had reservations about any dispensary ordinance that could prevent a locally owned pharmacy or drugstore from opening up somewhere downtown.
Black observed: “Keep in mind, what you have is a goal for a livable, workable downtown, in terms of if you want a pharmacy downtown or don’t.”
Since 2016, the city has enacted five six-month moratoriums, or temporary ban, on the sale of medical marijuana while staff researched its potential impacts on the community.
The latest six-month moratorium expired Sept. 21. If no action is taken, dispensaries could theoretically locate in multiple zoning districts, including the historic downtown area.
It’s not the first time commissioners have sought to allow dispensaries in designated areas.
The commission earlier this year directed staffers to draft an ordinance that would have permitted dispensaries in all zoning districts where the city allows pharmacies, except in the CRA district.
However, the city’s planning board recommended denial of the drafted ordinance, primarily due to language that makes existing pharmacies and drugstores in the district legal nonconforming uses.
The planning board subsequently recommended the commission to extend the moratorium, which they did.
At the latest workshop, new Dade City Senior Planner Melanie Romagnoli pointed out the previously drafted ordinance wasn’t exactly kosher, because the CRA district isn’t truly a business zoning district. “We would have to rezone everybody in the downtown to a certain district and then ban it from that certain district to practice zoning law,” she explained.
When asked by the commission for a recommendation, Romagnoli all but endorsed allowing dispensaries within city limits in some form or another.
“Coming from a pure zoning standpoint, I don’t view medical marijuana as the recreational pot that a lot of people are concerned about,” the city planner said. “It’s heavily controlled, it’s heavily regulated, and you have to have a prescription to get, so I view that particular product as going to get your prescription antibiotics, and my personal opinion is we should not regulate what is sold inside of a pharmacy if it’s already regulated at the state and federal levels. I don’t want to deny medical access to those who may need it.”
The mayor followed that sentiment, saying dispensaries should to be examined in a “medical context” to serve local residents stricken with illnesses like cancer, glaucoma and so forth.
Said Hernandez: “My heart just can’t do anything but go, ‘Hey, wow, there’s a condition and a need that needs to be addressed that we can provide access to.’ You can argue about the location of it and all that, but still having access to it is very important.”
Published October 2, 2019