St. Johns County approves medical marijuana moratorium

Dispensaries banned for 12 months

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Johns County Commission approved a 12-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday morning.

The vote was unanimous, 5-0.

The commission wants a study done on the potential impacts of qualified dispensing organizations, believing that a moratorium will protect the health and safety of the public while the study is underway.

"That will allow us time to look at our land use, and our zoning as well, for the state of Florida to implement laws," said county spokesman Michael Ryan. 

County leaders said they will now have more time to find out where the dispensaries should be allowed to go -- for example, how close they can be to schools and neighborhoods. They said they're also trying to keep other businesses, such as day cares, in mind. 

"We saw a little bit of public support for it, as well as a little bit of public opposition. But for the most part, the hearings have been fairly quiet," Ryan said. 

More than two dozen counties, including Clay County, and about four dozen cities, including Jacksonville Beach, have enacted moratoriums temporarily banning medical marijuana dispensaries from opening. Others are considering measures to regulate the industry.

Florida voters in November overwhelmingly approved a measure legalizing medical marijuana for hundreds of thousands of patients with debilitating conditions, and the Legislature is expected to produce legislation for its Department of Health to implement and regulate the sale.

The constitutional amendment, which went into effect last month, gives the Department of Health six months to craft rules to implement the measure and another three months to put the rules into effect.

The local moratoriums -- temporary bans on permitting and zoning for dispensaries -- are intended as status quo placeholders while officials wait for lawmakers, or the Department of Health, to impose new rules.

St. Johns County resident Ellen Whitmer voted against medical marijuana on last year’s ballot. But since it passed, she said she's hoping it takes a long time to become a reality in her community.

"I never really did buy the argument that it really helps people medically. I think it may do more harm than help," Whitmer said. 

St. Johns County will host a medical marijuana workshop at 4 p.m. April 13 at the St. Johns County Permit Center. The workshop will focus on proposed zoning and permitting regulations for retail stores for medical marijuana treatment centers in St. Johns County.

"We will take all public input from residents, as well as stakeholders who are interested in actually seeing these facilities built," Ryan said. 

Whitmer said she hopes her county's leaders make a responsible decision. 

"And if they think that they need more time to digest the material, and decided which way this county needs to go, then that is fine," she said. 


The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

About the Authors: