Can County Stop Weekend Marijuana Sales?



State law says medical marijuana dispensaries should be regulated the same as pharmacies, but Sarasota County governs one of these business’ hours more akin to a bar or liquor store.

Todd Beckwith, marketing director for Altmed Florida, says the company’s MÜV Medical Cannabis Dispensary, which opened this month on Fruitville Road, cannot sell its products in the store after noon on Saturdays or at all on Sundays. That’s in direct contradiction to a state law that says marijuana can be dispensed between 7am and 9pm.

Beckwith says jurisdictions have a choice whether to allow dispensaries from opening or prohibiting them entirely. “But if they allow, they must treat us no different than pharmacies,” he says.

County officials, though, note that the restrictions came with the approval of a special exception petition allowing the Fruitville location to operate. In a staff report recommending Sarasota County Commissioners approve the permit, it includes an applicant response to the time conditions. “With respect to operating hours of the MMD [Medical Marijuana Dispensary], the dispensary will comply with all valid conditions of approval," the report reads.

Commissioners in April voted 4-1 in favor of allowing the dispensary to open. County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo noted the entire medical marijuana industry is new to Florida, so governments must exhibit some precaution. "We're in uncharted territory here," he said.

As far as regulating dispensaries exactly like pharmacies, Caragiulo noted the two can't operate exactly the same for a bevy of reasons. Marijuana remains a banned substance under federal law, for example, forcing dispensaries to operate on a 100-percent cash basis. Regardless of any concerns about the product itself, that business model brings its own land-use concerns.

After a six-month approval process for the petition, Beckwith says Sarasota-based Altmed wanted to cooperate with county officials and get its first retail location open in its home county. But since other jurisdictions in the immediate area don’t place the same restrictions on dispensaries, the decision could now put the location at a competitive disadvantage.

For example, Trulieve plans to open a dispensary on Beneva Road inside the city limits for the City of Sarasota, which puts it blocks from the MÜV dispensary. But Sarasota spokeswoman Jan Thornburg confirms the city will place no set hours of operations for cannabis retailers in that jurisdiction.

In the meantime, Beckwith says Altmed plans to sell on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, just not over the counter. As a workaround to county code, the MÜV dispensary last weekend started offering free deliveries on Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 5pm, waiving a normal $20 delivery fee for anyone living within 25 miles of the Sarasota location. That means staff will man the store during delivery hours and can consult at the dispensary but cannot sell the product outside the times allowed by county rules.

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