GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After a focused debate and reviewing a county planning staff report, the Clay County Planning Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday in favor of an ordinance to allow medical marijuana …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After a focused debate and reviewing a county planning staff report, the Clay County Planning Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday in favor of an ordinance to allow medical marijuana treatment centers to set up shop in Clay County.
The vote comes almost a year after the Board of County Commissioners – to whom the planning commission answers – passed a moratorium on medical marijuana treatment centers and all associated zoning regulations until the state sorted out its own regulations for the budding industry.
“It sounds like, in grandeur, that we could have them all over the county,” said Joe Anzalone, planning commission chair. “In essence we’ll be lucky to even get one or two.”
Planning Commissioners reviewed a report from county Planning Director Ed Lehman, which provided two options – an outright ban that would come with a two-year sunset allowing the BCC to revisit the issue in the future if their minds had changed while the second was an ordinance that would allow treatment center to set up with some contingencies in place.
This conditional acceptance would require the facilities to be at least 500 feet from schools, as allowed by the state, as well as ceasing operation between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and requiring minimal signage for the businesses. None of the three regulations are placed on traditional pharmacies throughout the county.
In addition to tight regulations, there is no promise that Clay County would even get a dispensary should the BCC pass the ordinance to allow them.
County Attorney Courtney Grimm noted that legislators are only allowing 25 facilities per grower statewide. There are already 13 growers in the state who have been licensed, and seven of those 13 are already in operation. Two of those seven are in Duval County and one is in Alachua, and the Town of Orange Park voted last year to allow them within the town limits.
Immediately following Lehman’s report and discussion with Grimm, Anzalone asked for discussion or a motion. Commission member Michael Bourre immediately offered a motion for a ban, which was met with a quick second from fellow planning commissioner Brenda Kicsak. Before any further action, commission member Ralph Puckhaber wanted a chance to discuss the issue.
“This was a statewide vote that passed three to one,” said commission member Ralph Puckhaber. “In Clay County, I went and looked this up because I wanted to know, it was 70.6 percent, that means the citizens in Clay County by a three to one margin said they want this. So, the idea that we would put any kind of ban in place is again a legislative elitism that we’ve seen out of Tallahassee too many times.”
Puckhaber continued, stating that this, in the eyes of the average Clay County voter, is a medicine. He said that we would see it being distributed out of big name pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens were the medicine not still illegal on a federal level.
“The medicine is already in Clay County,” Puckhaber said. “They’re getting it from dispensaries in Alachua County and in Duval County, why would we force our citizens to go out of the county to get something that’s legal? Why wouldn’t we want to take advantage of that, at least get a little property tax out of a business and make it more convenient?”
Following Puckhaber’s comments, commissioners Belinda Johnson and Anzalone also spoke in favor of treatment centers, both recounting personal experiences where they have seen children affected by chronic illnesses being helped by the use of marijuana-based medicines.
“If it can only help one child I think that’s what we should do,” Johnson said. “You’ve got 50 percent of people hooked on legal pain medication. I’d like someone to tell me, has somebody died having regular marijuana, much less the medical marijuana?”
Kicsak then spoke up to voice her reason for not allowing the medicine to be dispensed in the county. In her research, the home delivery option for medical marijuana patients seemed convenient enough, and her concerns centered around the fact that the facilities would only be required to be 500 feet from schools, but forcing dispensaries to be further from schools would place the same regulations on other types of pharmacies, in accordance with state law.
“I don’t know if the 500 feet concerned anyone else, but it concerned me,” she said. “It’s not that I don’t want anyone to have it.”
Michael Bourre declined to comment, saying that Kicsak “hit it,” before Anzalone called for a vote on Bourre’s original motion.
The vote to suggest a ban to the BCC failed at 2-3. Puckhaber moved to approve their recommendation to the BCC to allow treatment centers in the county, which passed with a 3-2 vote.
The ordinance will now be considered by the BCC at their meetings on January 9, and 24, according to Grimm.