Palmetto Planning Commission recommends approval for medical marijuana facilities

Bradenton Herald (FL), 2014-08-22

Aug. 22 -- PALMETTO -- With polls continuing to show a slight edge of support for the November constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana in Florida , many jurisdictions are taking pre-emptive measures to restrict where those facilities may be located.

The Palmetto City Commission has had it on its radar for months. An ordinance proposing to restrict such facilities to the commercial heavy industrial zone, primarily in the eastern part of the city near U.S. 301 , has not been addressed, however, due to time constraints in workshop meetings.

Earlier this month, city attorney Mark Barnebey suggested the Palmetto Planning Commission initiate the process with recommendations for council.

The planning commission did so Thursday, debating several factors, including why such a facility should be treated differently from an establishment serving alcohol if medical marijuana is deemed legal.

Planning Commissioner Randy Laboni cited a recent

visit to Colorado following the full legalization of marijuana there, saying marijuana businesses are treated the same as retail stores. He, however, supports restricting those facilities to the CHI zone.

Barnebey said without an ordinance restricting locations, a medical marijuana facility could potentially open downtown.

"If this passes, eager entrepreneurs could rush into the city and open up a place anywhere in our commercial districts," said Commissioner Eve Joy to which Barnebey opined: "Places that don't have restrictions in place will be first."

Barnebey said the city isn't rushing to approve medical marijuana facilities, rather it is protecting itself by having restrictions in place in the likelihood Amendment 2 passes.

The draft ordinance presented to the planning commission includes other restrictions such as no loitering on the premises, no drive-through facilities, a 300-foot separation from schools, day care facilities and other medical-marijuana facilities, and compliance with all other federal, state and local laws.

Laboni said inserting the phrase "compliance of federal law" would negate the ordinance since the federal government still outlaws marijuana regardless of state approval, but Barnebey said the language could be to the city's advantage later: "I expect them to comply with all the laws of this country."

The planning commission also added language to restrict smoking marijuana on the premises of the facility.

City council is scheduled to take up the ordinance at its Monday meeting.

The city faces the same issue of restricting locations for pain-management clinics.

While not illegal, many cities such as Palmetto issued a moratorium following a statewide issue in 2009 with many pain-management clinics being found to be "pill mills."

Barnebey said at one point, Florida was "by far the largest provider of these. They were legal at the time, but in reality their activities were illegal."

The city moratorium has long since expired and one pain-management clinic operates on 10th Street East . Barnebey said the facility has never had a law-enforcement issue.

Acknowledging there is a legitimate need for such facilities, but weighing the need against preventing pills mills from reforming, the planning commission ultimately agreed to restrict such facilities to the commercial heavy industrial zone.

City planning consultant Rachel Layton said the CHI zone is being proposed for its distance from downtown as well as potential for growth.

She said pain-management clinics and medical-marijuana facilities would be allowed only under a conditional use application requiring interested parties to obtain planning commission and city council approval. Both ordinances passed unanimously.

Mark Young , Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.


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