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Voters OK’d medical marijuana but cities aren’t welcoming pot shops

Florida voters overwhelmingly supported the legalization of medical marijuana, but shops that would dispense pot in Palm Beach County likely will be few and far between as cities are trending toward banning the businesses.

Six Palm Beach County cities already have banned marijuana dispensaries, while others are considering similar bans. Meanwhile, only Lake Worth, Boynton Beach and unincorporated areas of Palm Beach County have welcomed pot shops.

Close to 75 percent of Palm Beach County voters approved Amendment 2, the November ballot question that expanded Florida’s medical marijuana program — a virtual landslide. But the state legislature limited local leaders’ ability to regulate dispensaries.

EDIBLE POT: Marijuana company nudges Florida regulators to allow pot candies

Cities have just two options: Regulate pot shops the way they do pharmacies, or ban them outright.

That means if dispensaries are allowed, officials say, cities cannot control the number of pot shops that open, hours of operation or where they can be located.

“(The state) has basically said take it or leave it,” said Robert Weinroth, a councilman in Boca Raton which took steps Tuesday to ban dispensaries, but is expected to carry out an official vote Oct. 24.

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Palm Beach Gardens is the latest city to ban what city officials described as an “attractive nuisance,” because marijuana is illegal under federal law, meaning all dispensary purchases would have to happen in cash.

Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp said prescriptions for medical marijuana don’t eliminate abuse of the drug. Edibles in the form of candies, lozenges and baked goods can be diverted to others, Stepp said.

“Fake identifications and prescriptions are expected, along with abuse by minors,” he said.

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Florida cannot market pot in its leafy form but instead must deliver it through vaporizers, oral drops or nasal sprays. While Florida technically allows edible marijuana, regulators have yet to set rules for cannibis candies.

Outlawing pot shops

Palm Beach Gardens joined Delray Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Lantana, Mangonia Park and Palm Springs in outlawing dispensaries from opening within their respective city borders.

“We’ve got enough on our plate,” Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein said, referring to the city’s reputation as a hub for opioid addiction recovery.

Delray Beach police and fire rescue have been inundated with drug-related incidents, and want to avoid another strain on resources, Police Chief Jeff Goldman said.

“To add another element to our community would be tough on us,” he said.

POT CENTERS: New businesses to help people medical marijuana cards

West Palm Beach recently extended an existing, but temporary, ban on marijuana dispensaries to allow city staff time to research.

But even if people can’t go to a dispensary, they can still obtain medical marijuana legally. There are some 130 doctors in Florida certified to make recommendations to the state whether a person can get a medical marijuana card. Patients then can have it mailed to them directly.

“It’s simply a zoning issue,” Boca Raton attorney Diana Freiser said of the issue over dispensaries.

Because Palm Beach County allows pot shops to open in unincorporated areas, dispensaries can open just outside the city limits of Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Palm Beach Gardens in their suburbs.

“I don’t believe there is a burden being placed on the residents who need it,” Weinroth said.

Eric Sevell, a Boca Raton resident, urged the city council to rebuff the ban, which would hurt those “who really need this.”

“Boca’s most vulnerable need access,” Sevell said.

Jupiter, Wellington may be next to decide

Town staff in Jupiter is reviewing whether to allow or ban marijuana dispensaries, Town Attorney Tom Baird said. Once staff makes a recommendation, it will forward findings to the town council, which will then set a date to vote on the issue, Baird said.

Wellington too is considering a ban on marijuana dispensaries, village officials said.

While Boynton Beach welcomes marijuana dispensaries, the vote to allow the businesses within city limits narrowly passed, with two of the five city commissioners shooting the idea down.

“I was definitely OK with one, maybe two dispensaries but now … we can end up with 1,000,” Commissioner Christina Romelus said. “That’s a little bit scary for me.”

Palm Beach County’s first dispensaries likely will open in Lake Worth, at 1 S. Dixie Highway and 1125 N. Dixie Highway, after a nod from the Florida Department of Health earlier this month.

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