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Hillsborough County Commission opts to reject controversial scoring plan for medical marijuana applicants

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Although medical marijuana became the law of the land after Floridians overwhelmingly supported it in 2016, there remains considerable angst among its supporters on how state and local leaders will implement the legislation.

Medical marijuana supporters (and some opponents) filled the County Center in downtown Tampa Tuesday night, with many of them blasting the county’s proposed licensing rules on who can run medical marijuana dispensaries in the county.

The ordinance would offer points to applicants on a 100-point scale under a 30-day window.

But with only seven vendors currently allowed by the state to bid on such licenses, critics said the law was discriminatory toward budding Florida entrepreneurs since virtually the only vendors with experience operating such facilities come from other states who have previously legalized medical pot.

Calling it a “giveaway” to existing license holders, Commissioner Pat Kemp offered a substitute motion that would remove the whole licensing section of the proposed ordinance, and instead wait for lawmakers in Tallahassee to decide on who is eligible to apply to sell medical pot in the county (and the state.

The board voted 4-3 in support of the motion, prompting cheers from the audience.

The proposal would also have limited the number of dispensaries in the county to one for every 67,222 residents — or a total of 13 in the entire county.

That was also unpopular with the crowd.

“From an economic standpoint, if you limit the supply, you’re automatically going to raise the price,” said Lee Kearney. “If I told you we would have one CVS for every 67,000 … you would say that is just preposterous.”

“We need more dispensaries, and if that doesn’t happen, I’m going to go to the black market,” said Lithia resident Renee Petro. Like so many other citizens, she said the county should wait for the state to enact their rules.

Earlier, the board did pass an ordinance that would require that medical marijuana dispensaries would have to operate 750 feet from churches, schools, parks and other community-use facilities, as well as other medical marijuana dispensaries and bars and liquor stores. That vote came despite an objection by Commissioner Les Miller, who feared that with the Legislature just beginning their regular session on Tuesday, the board could very possibly have their ordinance pre-empted by Tallahassee, so why not delay the vote?

“I still think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said. Commissioner Sandy Murman originally agreed with him, calling the Legislature “the big dogs, and we’re seen as little people to them.”

But other commissioners said it would be disrespectful to punt on the issue with so many people showing up at the hearing, and they went ahead approved that ordinance.

Miller had earlier suggested that the board should just vote to extend their moratorium on granting permits for new dispensaries, due to expire in April. His argument didn’t go far with the county attorney, however.

The elephant in the room is Tallahassee, where lawmakers began the official start of the 2017 legislative session on Tuesday, with a half-dozen bills proposed.

Ben Pollara, a spokesman for United for Care, the leading advocacy group that pushed for the medical marijuana legislation last year, issued a statement on Tuesday saying that he was “dismayed” by the bill proposed by Fort Myers Republican state Representative Ray Rodrigues.

Pollara says Rodriguez took a step backward with his newly proposed bill, which bans smokable and edible marijuana products and the vaporization of marijuana oils, except for terminal patients.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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