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Sanibel Council moves forward with marijuana dispensary prohibition
October 11, 2017

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City Council unanimously agreed to go forward with prohibiting marijuana dispensary businesses entirely, which will allow the board to have two public hearings in November and December to hear input from the community.

Planning Department Director Jim Jordan said the issue that was before the council last Tuesday was to look at two options, a result of the state legislature's decision on local municipalities being able to govern themselves regarding zoning of medical marijuana dispensaries.

The City Council passed a moratorium, which will expire Jan. 4.

"Since then the state has given local municipalities basically two options," Jordan said. "One option is you are preempted from regulating, but you can treat medical marijuana dispensaries the same as you would a pharmacy. Currently pharmacies are approved as permitted uses under the city's zoning requirements. There is no other regulation in regards to numbers, the hours, where they can be permitted. They only have to be licensed and registered with the state."

The only regulation is the distance of 500 feet in separation from schools, whether private, or public.

The second option, Jordan said would be to ban marijuana dispensaries altogether.

"Staff is here today to see which of those two options council would like to pursue. If you treat them as permitted uses, you get the chance to say yes, but you can't go back later and say no," Jordan said of the first option. "I think what the second option, by saying no, you do have the chance at looking into the practicalities and also any unintended consequences that may come along in regards to how the state handles this legally in regards to municipalities, or what other cities may encounter that may change as time goes by. The second option you can say no now, and yes later."

City Attorney Ken Cuyler said he thinks most municipalities and counties thought the legislature would provide the ability for cities and counties to limit the number of dispensaries. He said for example there are a lot of studies on so many dispensaries per population, and patients, providing a calculation of the number of dispensaries.

"I would think Sanibel would have only one that would be permitted, possibly two," Cuyler said. "But the legislature decided to say no, cities and counties can't limit them, they can prohibit them all together."

He further said there were a lot of limitations they thought they could put on the dispensaries, which is no longer the case.

"Sanibel is kind of unique, small local population, but a lot of visitors during the course of the year. We do have a lot of people that come to the city during the course of the year, it's not just our year round population, which might make it more attractive for the marketing. How that translates into dispensaries, I'm not really sure," Cuyler said.

Councilman Jason Maughan said if they do open the door, people have rights once they invest in a particular business and they would not be able to undo those rights.

"The second choice is kind of a mini moratorium, which is not what I'm saying, but it gives us time to hear from people. I don't think we have had the opportunity to really hear from people," Maughan said.

Vice Mayor Mick Denham said it seems to him if they choose option two and things change they have more opportunities.

"I would like to start off with saying no, realizing it may be some where down the road where there is going to be legislation, which can demise that," he said.

Mayor Kevin Ruane believes that some time in the future legislation will make the dispensaries for recreation as well. He said he does not think anyone envisioned to have five or 10 dispensaries.

"I can tell you that the people in Colorado certainly got into the medical aspect, certainly put that with long thoughts in mind with most people that are in that business . . . certainly got to the recreational aspect. The consequences on the infrastructure are things that have just not been taken into consideration. There is not legislation based on banking. They have a lot of challenges with that and I don't know any of those ramifications. I do know someone in the business and he still has a real hard time with opening a checking account and dealing with cash and the whole way the thing is regulated," Ruane said. "So the impacts to our infrastructure is just something I am not aware of might be, but something we need to take into consideration."

He also supported the second option because he does not like making legislation they cannot change in the future.

A first reading, and public hearing will be apart of the agenda in November and December.

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