Palm Beach Gardens officials banned medical marijuana dispensaries Thursday night, fearing they’d create an attractive nuisance for crime and set up near schools and churches.
PGA National resident Richard Preiser urged them to reconsider.
“You’re not preventing anything by not allowing medical marijuana dispensaries,” he said. “All you’re doing is making it much more difficult for patients that need it to get it. They either have to drive farther, or they have to do something by mail, which is not the most secure way of getting medication.”
Preiser said he’s been to Colorado, and nobody pays any more attention to the dispensaries than any other store or pharmacy.
Mayor Maria Marino said she supports the ban, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. She doesn’t want to follow the example of Lake Worth, where there’s a dispensary close to a K-8 charter school.
State law prevents dispensaries from within 500 feet of public or private elementary schools, but the Lake Worth shop was approved before the law took effect July 1.
Vice Mayor Mark Marciano, an optometrist, said he’s never considered treating his glaucoma patients with cannabis, but he knows some have it delivered from a grower in Miami-Dade County.
He questioned if Council should consider a three-year moratorium instead of an outright ban to give the legislature time to tweak the regulations. He noted the majority of Palm Beach Gardens voters wanted medical marijuana in the November election.
About 73 percent of Palm Beach Gardens voters favored the pro-medical marijuana Amendment 2 in November, a Palm Beach Post analysis of precincts centered in the city showed. That put Palm Beach Gardens firmly in the middle of cities, which ranged from nearly 82 percent passing in Mangonia Park to barely passing with less than 51 percent in Golf.
Councilwoman Rachelle Litt, a pharmacist, said the drug has potential to decrease opioid use and addiction for pain, but it hasn’t undergone the thorough scientific testing as other medications because it’s illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
State law is problematic because it doesn’t give cities the flexibility to keep dispensaries away from nursery schools, daycare centers or churches, Litt said.
“It’s an all or nothing proposition. If you allow one dispensary, then they’re all fair game. You can’t say where they go. You can’t say how they operate,” Litt said.
Palm Beach Gardens police say dispensaries make “an attractive nuisance” because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, so all purchases are done using cash. Most banks don’t accept money from dispensaries or process their credit card transactions.
In an emergency, the centers’ additional security features such as self-locking doors and bars on the windows could delay entry by firefighters and exit by staff and patrons, according to a staff report.
Police Chief Stephen Stepp said prescriptions for medical marijuana don’t eliminate abuse of the drug or diversion into crime, as seen in the pill mill epidemic.
Candies, lozenges and baked goods can easily be diverted to others, Stepp said.
“Fake identifications and prescriptions are expected, along with abuse by minors,” he said.
Data reporter Mike Stucka contributed to this report.