Sarasota Plots Next Move on Weed



Sarasota officials will explore the future of medical marijuana dispensaries in the community over the next two months, but until then will not allow the businesses to open within the city limits. “I voted for medical marijuana; I wanted to have it in the city,” said City Commissioner Liz Alpert. “We really wanted to have dispensaries in the city sooner.”

But for the moment, commissioners have instated a ban on dispensaries, something prompted, officials said, by the legislature failing to address implementation of a new constitutional amendment until a special session this year and then requiring cities to either ban dispensaries or allow them everywhere pharmacies can be opened.

City Attorney Robert Fournier says the city needed to extend the ban or risk the prospect of dispensary owners trying to open any number of businesses in a wide array of zoning districts where planners don’t want such establishments to operate. “It would be chaos if nothing was in place,” he said. He noted the city had previously been working on an ordinance allowing dispensaries but which would put in required distances from schools, residential areas and like establishments. That wouldn’t be allowable based on the legislature’s action.

Citizens came out in force to a commission meeting Monday to speak against a ban. One mother said her young child suffers seizures best treated by medical marijuana, and a doctor said the substance would be safer that many drugs that can be acquired (or stolen) from a pharmacy.

City officials noted that since medical marijuana remains a cash business, there remains a risk of crime such as robberies around dispensaries today, part of why the city wants to better put certain zoning restrictions in place.

Commissioner Hagen Brody suggested the city may explore changing the rules on pharmacies and applying similar restrictions on the zoning for those businesses as for dispensaries. Commissioner Willie Shaw stressed he wants the city setting the course on this, not awaiting further direction from the legislature.

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