Dispensary, Pharmacy Rules Changing in Sarasota



Medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed in Sarasota, but only after city commissioners decide on changes to its zoning rules for pharmacies. Following a move by city commissioners Monday night to update code, officials hope new regulations will be in place in early 2018 allowing the businesses to open in the city limits.

City Attorney Robert Fournier on Monday said planning staff has started exploring limitations on where standalone pharmacies can be constructed within the city limits, a move that comes months after state officials ruled municipalities must either prohibit dispensaries from a city entirely or allow them anywhere pharmacies can legally do business. While city officials have generally supported the opening of dispensaries in Sarasota, they have also expressed a desire to keep them a certain distance from schools and other institutions.

Commissioners this summer directed Fournier to explore the issue, and he found that in a significant number of zoning districts within Sarasota, pharmacies can operate but none do. “We could find freestanding buildings where the principal use was as a pharmacy in only four districts,” he said. Of course, many districts have pharmacies as secondary uses in groceries or drug stores. The city attorney believes zoning code could be rewritten to allow these pharmacy desks within supermarkets while prohibiting the opening of a marijuana dispensary.

He acknowledged there are parts of town, such as the Newtown commercial district, where no standalone pharmacy operates today but where planners would be happy to see one open. In coming weeks, zoning officials will look closely at what should be allowed in a number of zoning districts within the city. Also, there may be areas like the Downtown Edge where pharmacies already in existence now would be grandfathered in and allowed to continue doing business, but where no new pharmacies or dispensaries would be allowed to open. A proposed zoning amendment will likely go before the city Planning Board in November or December and be voted on by City Commissioners in January.

As Sarasota debates the issue, Bradenton expects to see its first dispensary, a Trulieve location on 14th Street, open today at 10am. 

Photo of Trulieve location in Bradenton

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