Wellington’s initial OK for medical pot dispensaries has guidelines

Wellington’s council took a first step Tuesday night toward allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in the village coincidentally as the first medical pot dispensary in the county opened in Lake Worth the same day.

With state law requiring counties and municipalities regulate medical pot dispensaries no differently than pharmacies, the Wellington council voted 3-2 to alter the pharmacy zoning to offer specific guidelines on locations.

LOOK INSIDE: Palm Beach County’s first medical marijuana dispensary opens

Should the measure pass — the second and final vote most likely will be at the council’s Jan. 8 meeting, Village Manager Paul Schofield said — medical marijuana dispensaries and pharmacies would need to be a minimum of 10,000 square feet and not allowed within 1,000 feet to a primary school. One pharmacy or dispensary would be allowed per retail development, with the exception of pharmacies in grocery stores.

The size, number and distance restrictions would be waived for pharmacies or dispensaries along State Road 7 in standalone buildings or in plazas with frontage on that road.

The state rules passed by the legislature this year tie the hands of municipalities, Vice Mayor John McGovern said, forcing them to either ban or allow medical marijuana dispensaries. With the village “essentially at build-out,” McGovern voted in favor of the changes and said Wellington is in a unique position to regulate where dispensaries can go by changing pharmacy regulations.

READ MORE: How Wellington could handle medical pot dispensaries

“We know that under this ordinance the place where these are going to go essentially becomes on State Road 7 in plazas that have frontage there,” he said.

Council members Michael Napoleone and Tanya Siskind also voted in favor of the ordinance. Napoleone pointed to the recently opened Knox Medical dispensary in downtown Lake Worth, saying it looked like a “futuristic perfume store.”

“I think there’s a disconnect between what people have seen in other places … versus what our state legislature has limited the medical marijuana uses to,” he noted in describing the appearance of medical pot dispensaries.

Mayor Anne Gerwig and Councilman Michael Drahos were the dissenting votes. Both said their opposition to the zoning rules should not be seen as opposition to people having access to a treatment.

GALLERY: Photos of the opening of Knox Medical, Palm Beach County’s first medical marijuana dispensary, in Lake Worth

Gerwig said she is hesitant until the federal government changes its stance on marijuana as an illegal substance. Because of that, medical pot dispensaries have large amounts of cash on hand and require round-the-clock security, she said.

“If this is a therapeutic use and it’s a Schedule I drug, there is a conflict there that needs to be, I think, directed back to the federal government and have them figure this out,” Gerwig said. “Because they’re putting all of us in a situation where we’re approving something that is federally illegal.”

Drahos said he isn’t convinced that Wellington voters’ overwhelming support to legalize medical pot in Florida — 72 percent voted in favor of Amendment 2 — means that they want dispensaries in the village.

RELATED: Florida’s pot patient count tops 50,000

“People like the idea, they just don’t necessarily want it in their backyard,” Drahos said, adding that if residents approach him before the council’s final vote on the changes, he would be open to changing his mind. “Tonight it’s my impression that the safer call at this point in time is a ban,” he said.

Wellington would be the only municipality in Palm Beach County to allow the dispensaries by changing pharmacy regulations. Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and unincorporated Palm Beach County allow the dispensaries but six municipalities, including Royal Palm Beach, have banned them.

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