by Jeremy Morrison
Florida voters may choose to legalize medical marijuana come November. But it could be a while before it’s available in Escambia County.
The Escambia County Board of County Commissioners indicated Tuesday it would likely be implementing a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries for a year in order to provide county staff time to assess how best to handle the establishments. The measure passed unanimously on the first of two public hearings.
Commissioner Doug Underhill asked why the county needed the moratorium, wondering if its length might be cut to six months.
“What are we trying to accomplish?” he asked.
Commission Chairman Grover Robinson said that the county needed to figure out some specifics — could a dispensary be located near a school or a church, for example — and also should compare notes with other counties around the state during a fall gathering of county officials.
“We hope to vet this with our peers,” Robinson explained.
The chairman also said that if medical marijuana becomes legal, some particulars will likely need to be hashed out in the legislature — “if that is where things potentially look to to have some clarification” — which would delay things into the spring.
“Then you’re looking to April before you can even send it to your planning board,” Robinson said.
All five commissioners appear on board with the concept of a moratorium, though Underhill did stress the importance of “working efficiently, effectively, and rapidly implementing things that were established by state law.”
The commissioner also said that the medical marijuana issue is “not something I have a personal position on one way or the other,” but that he was surprised that no members of the public had showed up to comment on the matter.
This is the first of two public speaking sessions,” Commissioner Underhill said. “If we do not have some type of input at the next one, then quite frankly you’ll be looking at a one year moratorium and that’ll be the last I have to say on it.”
The county’s next public hearing on the matter will be in two weeks.
Escambia County is considering its options when it comes to medical marijuana. This afternoon, county commissioners will hold the first public hearing considering establishing a moratorium on permitting medical marijuana dispensaries.
“I think it’d be good for us not to just rush in,” said Commission Chairman Grover Robinson during this morning’s agenda review session, adding that the measure was not an attempt to “circumvent state law.”
This November, Florida voters will have the opportunity to approve medical marijuana. A similar amendment was on the 2014 ballot, but was narrowly defeated — the amendment garnered 57.62 percent of the vote, a few percentage points short of the 60 percent required for a constitutional amendment.
Robinson suggested establishing a moratorium in order to give county staff more time to establish a framework governing dispensaries. He said the moratorium would likely extend until sometime in 2017.
Commissioner Doug Underhill wondered what the purpose of the moratorium would be — “so, we’re doing this from the politician side, not the staff side?” — and what the staff needed to figure out?
Robinson noted that staff had requested the clarification. And County Administrator Jack Brown listed off several considerations that would be explored during the moratorium.
“So far, we’ve identified things like how close to a school? How close to a church? Do you want it next to a playground?” Brown said, allowing that “right now, you could treat it just like a pharmacy.”
The Escambia County Commission will hold the first public hearing on the moratorium this evening during its regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. at the county’s downtown governmental complex.