City Commission agrees to allow medical marijuana facilities in Safety Harbor

The Safety Harbor City Commission recently agreed to allow medical marijuana pharmacies, dispensaries, processing and growing facilities in certain section of town. The former home of Sun Groves citrus farm on SR 580 was cited as a possible location for a grow facility, as it is zoned for outdoor agricultural use.

The Safety Harbor City Commission recently agreed to allow medical marijuana pharmacies, dispensaries, processing and growing facilities in certain section of town.

The decision came during a special workshop held at City Hall last week to gain public feedback on what has become a hot-button subject following the passaging of Amendment 2 in November.

In the wake of that landmark vote, the SHCC elected to enact a 180-day moratorium that went into effect on January 1; in May, the five commissioners unanimously voted to extend the ban an additional six months while staff conducted more fact-finding.

Officials began the one-hour work session on August 21 by clarifying some of the legalities associated with legislating medical marijuana establishments in the state.

“Most of the field of regulation for these facilities—security, cameras, noise, in some instances even signage—they have been preempted to the state,” City Attorney Nicole Nate explained, noting local lawmakers have three areas they could choose to regulate: site locations for dispensaries, site locations for growing and cultivating operations, or the outright banning of any medical marijuana facilities.

The Safety Harbor City Commission recently agreed to allow the establishment of medical marijuana treatment facilities in town. (Google Images)

Community Development Director Marcie Stenmark said that while some cities, including Sarasota, have opted for a ban, most municipalities that allow the facilities treat them the same as pharmacies and regulate them according to their existing city codes.

“The Senate Bill (8A) states that we cannot regulate medical marijuana dispensaries any more than a pharmacy,” she said. “So, they should be allowed anywhere a code allows pharmacies.”

“Well, our code doesn’t use the word ‘Pharmacy’. We use ‘Retail Sales’. So, anywhere retail sales are permitted uses…pharmacies are permitted in these areas because they’re considered retail sales.”

Stenmark added that growing and processing facilities could be permitted in areas zoned for Light Industrial use, while outdoor grow facilities would be permissible anywhere Agriculture is allowed a conditional use, including the recently vacated Sun Groves citrus center site on State Road 580.

“If you wanted to address the outdoor growing of medical marijuana, we have one district where Agricultural uses are allowed today as a conditional use only, and this is the former Sun Groves site,” Stenmark said.

At that point Andrew Wagner, an official with Midwest Compassion Center, an Illinois based medical cannabis dispensary, said his company has a desire to expand into Florida, with an eye on Safety Harbor and the Sun Groves site.

Andrew Wagner, an official with Midwest Compassion Center, an Illinois based medical cannabis dispensary, told the City Commission on August 21 that his company has a desire to expand into Florida, with an eye on Safety Harbor.

“Right now, we are currently only a dispensary,” Wagner said. “Florida would be our first step into growing and processing.”

In speaking about his company’s interest in the Sun Groves site, Wagner said “I think it’s a very good option for us.”

The Sun Groves citrus center on SR 580.

Wagner explained some of the specifics of the medical cannabis industry, including the fact that the majority of patients are people 55 and up with serious and debilitating health issues.

He noted Florida did not approve smoking medicinal cannabis, so patients must use edibles, vaporizers, topicals and other materials to deliver the prescribed doses.

“There’s no medical benefits one way or the other,” he said. “The only difference is the duration the product lasts.”

Wager said MWC, which is a subsidiary of American Imaging, a diagnostic company based in Boca Raton with 125 years of medical experience, is currently fighting for one of the two citrus processing licenses that will be granted for the region, and if successful, they would most likely want to open dispensaries nearby.

“Ideally, if we were to locate in your fine city, we’d like to have a dispensary close by,” he said, adding for every license a company secures, it is allowed to open 25 dispensaries in the region.

“But ultimately, our number one goal is to get the cultivation at the citrus processing facility.”

Later, Stenmark clarified an indoor grow operation would not be permitted at Sun Groves, as it is currently zoned for outdoor agricultural use only.

But the information and insight Wagner provided into the medical cannabis industry, combined with the mostly supportive comments from the audience, seemed to hold sway with the commission.

Safety Harbor City Commissioner Scott Long.

“I am one of the 72 percent that voted for this,” Commissioner Scott Long said, noting his mother has MS and he “wanted to do anything I could do to help her.”

“We’re in a really difficult position up here no matter which way we go.”

Commissioner Andy Zodrow concurred with Long, stating he also voted for the bill and he supported regulating the businesses, while Commissioner Cliff Merz added, “we can only contain it.”

With unanimous support in favor of establishing guidelines, Mayor Joe Ayoub directed staff to draft an ordinance regulating medical marijuana facilities in Safety Harbor.

After the meeting, City Manager Spoor explained the next steps in the process.

“The City Commission requested staff to draft an ordinance that allows medical marijuana dispensaries and pharmacies as permitted uses in zoning districts where retail sales are a permitted use, and medical marijuana processing and growing facilities in the M-1 (Light Industrial) district,” Spoor told Safety Harbor Connect.

Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub.

“Preparation and adoption of an ordinance can take several months, and the hearings have not been scheduled.”

Mayor Ayoub also weighed in on the Commission’s decision.

“The state, and over 72% of Safety Harbor voters, passed Amendment 2 last November allowing medical marijuana use by qualifying patients,” Ayoub said via email this week. “State lawmakers drafted and the Governor approved the rules which govern how local municipalities must handle dispensing and processing facilities. The Commission gave staff preliminary direction to draft ordinances which allow dispensing facilities that comply with state law and processing facilities in the light industrial district(s) of town.”

“I look forward to continued dialogue with the residents of Safety Harbor as we move through the public hearing process.”

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