by Jeremy Morrison
After considering a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, Escambia County commissioners have decided to scuttle the concept, instead choosing to focus on hammering out code and permitting logistics for the facilities — the stated purpose of a moratorium — without the formality of a year long ban.
While Commission Chairman Grover Robinson pushed for the measure, contending it was needed to afford county staff time to figure out how to accommodate medical marijuana dispensaries into the Land Development Code, the board rejected his premise, maintaining that staff could manage without the moratorium.
“It seems odd we’d want to go ahead with a moratorium,” said Commissioner Doug Underhill, pointing out that the variety of low-THC marijuana the state legislature approved in 2014 had been in the pipes for two years — “we knew this was coming” — and that the potentially broader, more traditional medical marijuana that might be approved by voters this November wouldn’t be an on-the-street-reality until next summer. “The only reason we’re even talking about this is it’s got this word ‘marijuana.’”
Other commissioners — who had weighed in on the issue earlier this month during the first public hearing on the moratorium — were also reluctant to support the effort. Vice Chairman Wilson Robertson wondered why a dispensary couldn’t be handled like a pharmacy in the LDC. Commissioner Lumon May said he was “not going to support the word moratorium,” and suggested issues such as employment drug tests may need to be reassessed with the evolving legal landscape. Commissioner Steven Barry was concerned that the board would be “providing this implementation to sympathy or empathy.”
The chairman insisted that it was not his intent to stall medical marijuana in Escambia — “if it’s legal, it’s legal, let’s find a way to allow it and permit it” — and that he simply wanted to take the time to assess how best to deal with it logistically. He also suggested that the county go ahead and permit the limited number of low-THC dispensaries that could pop up currently, and then apply a moratorium to anything resulting from the November election, where voters could approve a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana for a much broader population pool.
In the end, the commissioners decided to go ahead and deal with the dispensaries currently allowed — requesting staff get back to them with a recommendation about how best to accommodate the facilities logistically within 30 days — and agreed to work out anything beyond that, sans moratorium, by the time any new ballot measure would take effect.
During both public hearings on the moratorium, on Aug. 4 and 18, members of the public spoke before the commissioners, voicing overwhelming opposition to any type of moratorium. They shared personal circumstances, often involving an ill family member that they said could benefit from medical marijuana.
On the occasion of the second public hearing, Commissioner Underhill read from a letter given to him by a constituent. The letter was from Claude Gillette, who had spoken against a moratorium during the first hearing and told commissioners about his terminally ill wife and how medical marijuana would help ease her remaining time.
By the second hearing, Gillette needed to stay home with his wife. Still, he wanted to make sure to get his message to the commissioners prior to their decision.
“‘My mind is numb,’” Underhill read from Gillette’s letter, explaining that the man’s wife might not have much time left. “‘I ask not for a moratorium, but for motivation.’”