- The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
Thousands of Floridians are impatiently awaiting the arrival of medical marijuana. And well-funded companies, more corporate than counterculture, are gearing up around the state.
But there’s trepidation, too. Although Palm Beach County commissioners are advancing an ordinance to allow dispensaries in unincorporated areas, many Florida municipalities have banned dispensaries, at least temporarily. Among them are West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Royal Palm Beach and Boca Raton.
Much of this is motivated by fear of the unknown. As Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie told The Post: “It’s a bold new area that nobody knows how to regulate.”
Lake Worth, though, is taking that bold step. It’s currently the only city in Palm Beach County where cannabis dispensaries are setting up. One, from Knox Medical, of Miami, is settling into a former bank building across from City Hall, smack downtown. Another, from Miami-based Modern Health Concepts, is moving into a rehabbed office building a mile north on Dixie Highway. The landlord says it’s “going to be the Starbucks of medical marijuana.”
One big catch. That Modern Health Concepts location is kitty-corner from a public charter school, the Academy for Positive Learning, for 135 students in grades K-8. The school of predominantly low-income students has an impressive rating of 9 (out of 10) on GreatSchools.org.
Principal Renatta Espinoza says that she and parents are deeply concerned — not so much about the dispensary itself, which will be licensed and controlled by the state Department of Health, but for the potential for troublemakers lurking around the place, looking to buy or sell marijuana products or to attempt robberies of the cash-only business.
It’s because of worries like these that recently passed state regulations require medical marijuana dispensaries to be at least 500 feet away from public or private elementary, middle or secondary schools.
Modern Health Concepts, however, will be less than 183 feet from Academy for Positive Learning, by Espinoza’s measurement. That’s allowed because the location was approved before the law went into effect July 1.
But Espinoza isn’t content with that. She has contacted the governor, Sheriff’s Office and state attorney to find some means to block the facility.
Modern Health Concepts counters that it will have “strict security measures in place, such as cameras and round-the-clock security personnel presence,” CEO Gregg Roberts said in an email to The Post Editorial Board. “We respect the concerns that have been raised by our neighbors, and we look forward to an open dialogue with them as we work toward a resolution.”
As of Friday, however, Espinoza said she hadn’t been able to contact Roberts and there had been no dialogue.
Roberts’ assurances about security, while well-intentioned, might simply confirm the skeptics in their belief that this business is inherently too dangerous to be near children.
Moreover, an uproar like this is the last thing that a fledgling industry, fighting for respectability, should want. Modern Health Concepts may be within its rights to do business close to a school building, but that doesn’t mean it’s smart business to do so.
Medical marijuana’s debut in Lake Worth will be a test case. Other communities will be watching.
Despite the money Modern Health Concepts has poured into the location, its investors should really stop and consider whether the company’s long-term prospects — for its own potential expansion, as well as the larger industry’s — wouldn’t be better served if it chose another location out of the range of schoolchildren.