(UPDATE) Reacting to criticism from citizens that allowing only 13 medical marijuana dispensaries in Hillsborough County would be insufficient, County Commissioners on Wednesday supported a measure to increase the number by a modest amount.
However, proposed legislation in Tallahassee would effectively negate the board’s work, by stating that local governments cannot put any caps on the number of dispensaries.
The board had been moving toward restricting the number of dispensaries to a particular formula of one for every 67,222 residents in unincorporated areas — 13 in all. However, two months ago, the board, led by Commissioner Pat Kemp, voted 4-3 to allow for an unlimited number of dispensaries throughout the county.
But Commissioner Ken Hagan came back before the board on Wednesday seeking to maintain the limit to 13 dispensaries.
After hearing from the public, however, Commissioner Les Miller said he believed that in a large county like Hillsborough, 13 was too few, and proposed changing the formula to one-and-a-half dispensaries for every 67,222 residents, meaning the total will increase to at least 19.
That motion passed 5-2, with Hagan and Chair Stacy White dissenting.
The board voted against a proposal by Kemp that would eliminate the system to score which companies would be allowed to distribute medical pot in the county.
“I’m little surprised it’s left to me to make the free-market argument,” said Kemp, a Democrat. “We’re picking winners and losers.”
Commissioner Victor Crist, a Republican, said he agreed with Kemp that championing the free market system is why he became a Republican back in the 1970s, but said every case was different. He asked Kemp rhetorically if she would embrace an unlimited number of strip clubs in the county.
“This system is rigged to benefit the current license holders because it awards multiple licenses to the top scorer regardless of how many licenses the scorer applied for,” said Tampa resident Kyle Burns. “To promote basic fairness and competition, this can’t happen.”
Over the weekend, the Tampa Bay Times reported that county commissioners had been lobbied heavily by representatives for San Felasco Nurseries, one of the state’s seven approved growers. Specifically, board members were encouraged to follow along the lines of what has been done in Osceola and Sumter counties, which also adopted the one dispensary per roughly every 67,000 citizens.
Hillsborough County schoolteacher (and school board candidate) Jessica Vaughn said the seeming reversal perplexed her.
“I’m just very confused on this quick pivot from what you voted for a few weeks ago, and why now all of a sudden this is public safety issue, and it really feels like instead of listening to your constituents your listening to lobbyists and voting in favor of what they want and not what the people want.”
The specter of the pill mill crisis in Florida was invoked by several medical marijuana critics.
“The pill mills were everywhere,” said Teresa Miller. We had our van stolen from our front yard one Saturday night, and it was abandoned in Brooksville with drugs in it. I don’t want this to happen again, and I don’t want that type of clientele walking through our neighborhood again.”
The hearing took place while news broke from Tallahassee that state lawmakers have finally struck a deal to permit the use of medical marijuana in Florida.
Fleming Island Republican state Senator Rob Bradley said he would file legislation that would “ensure the availability and safe use of medical marijuana in the manner prescribed by Florida voters.”