Every morning, about 130 low-income kids in kindergarten through eighth grade make their way to Academy for Positive Learning, an A-rated public charter school on North Dixie Highway.
The school has been at the site for five years and in Lake Worth for 14.
Across the street, the academy is about to get a new neighbor — a medical marijuana dispensary run by Modern Health Concepts , a Miami-based alternative medicine company.
The 3,000-square-foot marijuana dispensary, where non-smokable pot can be sold to approved patients under a constitutional amendment passed in November by voters, is scheduled to open in September.
That has school officials worried.
“We don’t understand why it’s across the street,” said Marie Hudson, the school’s assistant principal. “Lake Worth is a fairly big city and it has a lot of buildings where this particular medical marijuana pharmacy could have been put. The city has not discussed this at all with us. If they felt this was a good decision, why wouldn’t they consult us?”
While state law says medical marijuana dispensaries must be 500 feet from schools, Modern Health’s Chief Executive Gregg Roberts said the site is “grandfathered in” because the company won approval before the state enacted the law.
“The facility was cited and approved and we have already invested in making this location operational for those patients that have been waiting for this medicine,” Roberts said.
The school, which initiated a letter-writing campaign to Gov. Rick Scott to block the dispensary, has several concerns, one of which is traffic.
Hudson said when the school was built, officials hired a consultant to perform a traffic analysis.
“As far as I know, that hasn’t been done over there,” she said. “Our children take the Palm Tran bus, so they have to wait on the corner for the bus.”
Principal Renatta Espinoza has said potential troublemakers could be lurking near the store, looking to buy or sell marijuana products.
It’s a concern shared by Hudson.
“What kind of clientele will the center attract?” she asked. “We feel there are a lot of people that want to use marijuana for other than medical use. If they know that this is a place where you can get it, why wouldn’t they be attracted to this location to see if people are selling it? I don’t want to accuse anybody of doing anything wrong, but it’s a concern.”
Lake Worth Mayor Pam Triolo could not be reached for comment.
The company’s other dispensaries, including Lake Worth, all will have strict security measures such as cameras and round-the-clock security, Roberts said. The pot business is typically conducted with cash because most banks won’t take on the risk of engaging in a business that is illegal under federal law.
“Our priority is to make this medicine available to the patients that badly need it, coupled with ensuring that we are good stewards in the community, in compliance with all the laws and regulations and operating in a safe and secure environment,” Roberts said.
Last week, medical marijuana dispensaries got one step closer to being permitted in unincorporated Palm Beach County after county commissioners declined to ban them and moved forward with regulating their location and operation.
A final vote is set for Sept. 28.
Cities can impose a total ban on dispensaries within their boundaries, but they can’t limit their number or tightly regulate where they can be located under state law. Unlike other municipalities, Lake Worth didn’t pass a moratorium blocking marijuana dispensaries.
The new state law added the prohibition against dispensaries opening within 500 feet of a public or private school.
The Lake Worth dispensary is 183 feet away from the academy, Espinoza said.
“We’re looking into the law that allowed them to be open … and why they’re not willing to follow what the state has now elected to do in keeping any of these marijuana facilities 500 feet away from a school,” Hudson said. “Nobody wants to sue anybody, it’s just about the safety of our children.”
City Commissioner Herman Robinson said he didn’t have any issues with the center, assuming it’s grandfathered in under the law. “It’s within the law and as long as we’re not breaking the law, I’m good,” Robinson said.
Commissioner Andy Amoroso said the center is in a new building that is equipped with plenty of lights and security cameras.
“I have to think that will deter some bad guys,” Amoroso said.
Meanwhile, Hudson said the school has held two meetings with parents, invited the Guardian Angels protection group to discuss the issue and has written with parents more than 100 letters to Gov. Scott for help, but have yet to hear back from him.
“We’re waiting for Scott to come in and hopefully help us on what our next recourse should be,” Hudson said. “That would be to make sure we have appropriate security or hopefully (Modern Health) will realize the error of their ways and move.”