Medical marijuana dispensaries could soon move into Bonita Springs
Greystone Manor, once known as the Turley Castle, is back on the market on Marco Island. The six-bedroom gated estate is at 1690 N. Copeland Drive.Vonna Keomanyvong/Naples Daily News, Wochit
Medical marijuana dispensaries could soon move into Bonita Springs. The City Council voted on Wednesday night to end a temporary ban.
Bonita Springs is the first municipality in Lee County to allow dispensaries, although the businesses can open in unincorporated areas of the county.
The council chamber was nearly empty during the vote but members said they received heavy public feedback beforehand. That feedback swayed Councilor Peter O’Flinn to vote against the ban.
“I’ve reached out to people in the interim, quite a few people with various views in various ways, and I’m of the view that, based on that, we should not continue with the (temporary ban),” he said.
O’Flinn joined Councilors Greg DeWitt, Steve Slachta and Mike Gibson in the 4-3 vote. Mayor Peter Simmons and Councilors Fred Forbes and Amy Quaremba voted in favor of moving the ban forward.
Those on the council who supported the ban argued that they wanted to see whether the state Legislature made further changes to the dispensary rules.
No bills in the current legislative session address the specific medical marijuana statutes related to the ban.
Most councilors who voted against the temporary ban, or moratorium, said that state lawmakers might never make a change, which could amount to a permanent extension of the ban.
People licensed to open dispensaries can now submit a permit application to the city like any other business.
People licensed to open medical marijuana dispensaries can now submit a permit application to the city like any other business.
A medical marijuana dispensary can open in the same places as pharmacies such as Walgreens or CVS, although the dispensaries are barred from operating within 500 feet of a school. In Bonita Springs, pharmacies are allowed in most commercial and industrial zones in the city, so a dispensary could open along U.S. 41, Bonita Beach Road or much of Old 41 Road.
“There’s different entities that are interested in this area,” City Attorney Audrey Vance said. “I would anticipate one or more businesses would locate here. I do not think you would have more than one or two.”
Legally, a dozen dispensaries in the area, but a lack of many patients in the immediate area would likely keep that from happening.
One idea made, to open the door for a couple dispensaries then re-instate the ban, could end in a lawsuit, Vance said.
Collier County has a temporary dispensary ban in place.
The nearest open dispensary is in North Fort Myers. Any dispensary that would open in Bonita Springs would be the closest place for medical marijuana patients in Collier County to receive their prescription.
Cities and counties are grappling with how to implement Florida’s Amendment 2, which passed with 71 percent of the vote in 2016. Amendment 2 added to the list of chronic illnesses that would make patients eligible for a medical marijuana prescription.
At present, Florida law prevents medical marijuana patients from smoking the drug. Patients can use it in other forms such as oils, sprays, pills or through vaping.
Bonita Springs has gone back and forth on its medical marijuana dispensary ban a few times within the last couple weeks.
The council voted to end the ban at a Wednesday, Feb. 21, meeting in a 3-3 vote. O’Flinn was absent.
At O’Flinn’s request, a special meeting took place the following Monday morning. The full council reversed the decision and said it expected to make a final decision later in March.
The council had planned to put a medical marijuana dispensary ban ordinance through a required first reading, which it did Wednesday evening, and save an in-depth discussion for the final reading slated for March 21.
Instead, the City Council decided they were ready to nix the ban. With O’Flinn’s swing vote, the council was no longer split.
At least one medical marijuana dispensary supporter at Wednesday’s meeting had expected more of a fight
“I was ready to fill the room with people who need (medical marijuana),” said Jesse Purdon. “I guess we won’t need that.”