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Pinellas cities slow to take action on location of medical marijuana dispensaries

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Earlier this month, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved the sale of medical marijuana.

But that doesn’t mean those who qualify for the medication under Amendment 2 will be getting it anytime soon. That’s because the Florida Department of Health needs to develop regulations and the Legislature is expected to take up the issue in the upcoming session.

Even after those hurdles are cleared, it’s unlikely that sick people will be able to drive down to a store on the corner to have their prescriptions filled. That’s because cities and counties will decide where dispensaries can be located.

Thus far, few of the county’s governments have taken any action, according to a survey by Forward Pinellas. Forward Pinellas is the countywide agency that oversees land development and transportation.

According to Forward Pinellas, Madeira Beach passed an ordinance last year that basically requires anyone who wants to open a dispensary there to go through an approval process. Among the items that city officials would look at – compatibility with neighbors and how close the dispensary would be to schools, churches, parks, day cares and the like.

More recently, Pinellas Park passed a six-month moratorium.

Pinellas County staff members have discussed the issue and would like to see rules that apply countywide whether the dispensary was in a city or in an unincorporated area.

The Largo Commission has an 180-day moratorium to give city staff time to come up with a zoning plan and for the commission to approve it.

Carol Stricklin, the city’s community development director, said three main issues need to be covered by city rules: Where in the city can the dispensaries be located? Should the dispensaries be a “permitted” use in those areas or should they be a “conditional” use? What about parking?

Right now, Stricklin said, dispensaries would likely go in commercial general zoning. By limiting them to that zoning, the dispensaries could be located only in areas where the surrounding businesses are compatible with intense commercial activity and are near easy access to major transportation facilities. That would help keep them away from schools or residential areas.

Largo commissioners, she said, are leaning towards making them permitted uses if they are in freestanding buildings. That would mean the operator of the dispensary would not have to go through hearings before being allowed to open. If, however, the proposed dispensary would be in a multi-tenant building, like a mall or office building, then it would have to go through an approval process.

Part of that process includes notifying neighbors and other tenants in the building to allow them to weigh in on having a medical marijuana dispensary on the property.

Stricklin said another concern is the parking. It’s unclear, she said, how much parking a dispensary might need.

What it won’t need is a drive-through. Stricklin said those will be forbidden.

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