At the Oct. 24, 2017 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, the first public hearing was held to repeal a local ordinance governing the licensing and location of medical marijuana facilities. The ordinance that was passed in May 2016 is preempted by a new statute passed last June (2017). Ultimately, future medical marijuana facilities will be regulated by the state regarding licensing, use and location. The statute also includes a clause for cities or counties to ban dispensaries.
Discussion began with public comments. Lamar Kuntz, a resident of Hernando county addressed the board urging the county to completely opt-out of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries. “We face an all-or-nothing choice here,” Ms. Kuntz said, citing concerns of concentrated facility coverage, increased crime and illegal use by minors, and increased expense for local oversight. “We acknowledge the fact that a large majority of our citizens voted to allow medical marijuana. Those who will be using it will have easy access ... as there is a 24-hour 7-Day home delivery,” which Ms. Kuntz said she is aware of since she knows someone who uses medical marijuana and employs such a service.
Teri Nichols, Chairman of the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce addressed the board, adding that since zoning of marijuana facilities is now controlled by the state, counties with a higher number of dispensaries will be unable to zone them appropriately. Ms. Nichols voiced concern over the potential of facilities to focus on profit, rather than to the patients they will serve. “(The ban) should be implemented in Hernando County in a way that protects Floridians from those who are just in business to make money no matter the health and social impacts. As we witnessed with the “pill mills” and ensuing opioid epidemic, not all practitioners are in it for the well-being of the patients.”
Hernando county resident Shirley Miketinac opened her comments with “Basically, it sounds like ‘Not In My Backyard’.” Ms. Miketinac gave a brief account of how the hemp industry earned a “bad name” by oil and paper industries. “Why is there this fear of marijuana? It is so much less than the opioids. Do we fear that we’ve got drug stores on every corner, full of opioids … and there’s crime because of that? … (Marijuana) is a far less harmful product than what’s found at the drugstore.”
Back at the dais, Commissioner Jeff Holcomb opened the board discussion, saying “We were trying to be smart, and trying to look at how’s this going to be implemented.” Not knowing how control was going to be implemented, Holcomb voiced concerns about dispensaries ‘popping up’ akin to the numerous amounts of ‘pill mills’ and sweepstakes businesses that opened in many locations in a short period of time. “Let’s let the other governments be the guinea pigs,” Holcomb said, adding that much could be learned by watching other counties for the next year.
Commissioner Steve Champion made it clear that he stands with the majority voters. “The constitution says ‘We the people’, and we the people spoke. They voted seventy percent. Who are we to tell the people, ‘we’re going to put it on hold for a year.’” Champion, who is a member of the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, had some harsh words for the Chamber, saying, “Who is the Chamber to come forward and say that they’re not for a (legal) business opening that the voters voted for? I don’t like the Chamber involved in stuff like this … I think you should stay out of things like this.”
“First and foremost, I am in favor of Home Rule,” began Commissioner John Allocco. “I believe the founders of this country when they talked about a small, responsive government … they were talking about getting as close as you can to the problem, in this case, the county.” However Allocco said “I believe that the state legislature has had long enough to come up with a reasonable solution. I believe that solution is reasonable.” Of citing the opioid crisis as a basis for the fear of local dispensaries, Allocco said, “The reason why we have the opioid crisis was because the federal government did not hold feet to the fire with the legislation they had in place for the distributors.”
Commissioner Nick Nicholson agreed with his fellow board members, saying “One thing that makes me mad is that … (politicians) go to Tallahassee and to Washington DC, and the people overwhelmingly vote in favor of doing something by a large margin, and (politicians) ... just ignore the people.” Nicholson also said, “How many overdoses do you hear about and people dying from opioids? Not medical marijuana.”
Since the discussion focused mostly on the portion of the state statute that would allow for counties to ban cultivation and dispensing facilities outright, County Attorney Garth Coller and Assistant County Administrator Ron Pianta reviewed the language of the repeal ordinance, and concluded that any ordinance to ban facilities would need to take place in a separate agenda item in a future meeting. This hearing was the first of two public hearings to only repeal the May 2016 county ordinance to regulate such facilities.
Chairman Wayne Dukes added that the commission has a voice, and can lobby state representatives should the new constitutional amendment prove problematic. “I think that’s our job. We’re on the ground with the Sheriff’s department and health department, and various agencies as we see this progress.”
The motion to repeal Ordinance 2016-05 came from Commissioner Champion, and seconded by Commissioner Nicholson. The motion carried 5-0.