Palm Beach County commissioners move to end moratorium on pot shops

Lake Worth is the only locale in Palm Beach County to welcome medical marijuana dispensaries for now, but that’s about to change. Palm Beach County commissioners on Thursday pushed forward the process of setting rules for pot shops in unincorporated areas.

Finding spots for dispensaries can be tricky. In Lake Worth, the rare city that is welcoming of dispensaries, the principal of a charter school at 1200 N. Dixie Highwaywas incensed to learn that a marijuana treatment center plans to open across the street, at 1125 N. Dixie.

“I’m furious,” said Renatta Espinoza, president of the Academy for Positive Learning. “It’s a cash-only pharmacy. That’s what gets me upset.”

Because marijuana remains federally illegal, marijuana businesses typically operate in cash, although apps such as CanPay allow customers to link payments to debit cards. Espinoza worries that the business will become a target for criminals.

Florida voters overwhelmingly passed a medical marijuana amendment in November, but many municipalities are reluctant to approve cannabis retailers. Palm Beach County in February enacted a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.

County commissioners set Aug. 24 as the date of a first reading of a proposed ordinance for medical marijuana dispensaries. The final reading would come Sept. 28.

Now, the county says, it’s poised to end that moratorium and allow cannabis retailers to operate. A state law passed in late June says dispensaries must be at least 500 feet from elementary and secondary schools, but some Florida municipalities already had begun to approve cannabis retailers.

The city of Lake Worth in February approved an application by Modern Health Concepts of Miami-Dade County to open a 3,000-square-foot dispensary at 1125 N. Dixie Highway in Lake Worth.

As Florida’s medical marijuana industry takes root, the state’s seven licensed pot producers have opened dispensaries from Miami to Pensacola — but not, at least so far, in Palm Beach County.

That could change in the coming weeks. Two cannabis companies plan retail locations on Dixie Highway in Lake Worth, and the county’s first dispensary could open as early as August.

Another cannabis company, Knox Medical of Miami, plans a 2,300-square-foot pot shop of its own, in a former bank branch at 1 S. Dixie Highway, just across the street from Lake Worth City Hall.

While dispensaries have opened in Orlando, the Tampa area, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Gainesville and even The Villages, no cannabis retailers have opened in Palm Beach County, in part because the county and many municipalities have passed rules temporarily barring pot shops.

Palm Beach County voters overwhelmingly favor medical marijuana. Nearly 75 percent said yes to Amendment 2, the November 2016 ballot question that expanded Florida’s medical marijuana program. The amendment’s margin of victory in Palm Beach County was the sixth-highest among the state’s 67 counties.

Yet, cities such as Boca Raton, Palm Beach and West Palm Beach have said they won’t allow pot businesses for now.

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie said Thursday that her city has no plans to end its ban on dispensaries.

“It’s a bold new area that nobody knows how to regulate,” she said.

Amendment 2 makes marijuana available to people with cancer, epilepsy, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments. They must get a doctor’s permission to buy cannabis.

Gov. Rick Scott on June 23 signed a bill that eliminated a 90-day waiting period for pot patients and removed sales taxes from cannabis transactions.

One caveat: Patients can’t buy pot in the leafy green buds most commonly associated with the drug. Instead, cannabis is delivered through vaporizers, oral drops and nasal sprays.

Cannabis companies are allowed to deliver products to customers, so Floridians still can get weed in spite of the lack of storefronts.

As pot producers vie for market share in a budding industry that eventually could serve hundreds of thousands of patients, Quincy-based Trulieve has emerged as the state’s most aggressive player. It has opened nine dispensaries statewide and plans 17 more, according to its website, but none of its locations are in Palm Beach County.


Amendment 2 wins in landslide: What’s next for legal pot?

Inside Colorado’s pot shops: A picture of Florida’s future?

Medical marijuana backers in Florida not looking to California for model

Even when pot is legal, bosses can fire workers for testing positive

John Morgan and Sheldon Adelson: Meet the money men behind Florida’s pot fight

Hazy science: Is weed a wonder drug?

Why marijuana businesses can’t get a checking account

Disappointment for medical pot patients who revealed their secret during Amendment 2 campaign

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