Home / Government / SHCC does an about-face, decides to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in Safety Harbor

SHCC does an about-face, decides to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in Safety Harbor

The Safety Harbor City Commission voted to ban medical marijuana facilities in town by a vote of 3-1 on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017. (Credit: Google Images)

Following a special workshop in late August, the Safety Harbor City Commission directed staff to draft an ordinance that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in town.

While the five commissioners admitted during the August 21 session it was a difficult issue for many reasons, they ultimately unanimously consented to have the city manager and city attorney draw up regulations for the facilities, which state law dictated must be handled in the same manner as pharmacies.

“State lawmakers drafted and the Governor approved the rules which govern how local municipalities must handle dispensing and processing facilities,” Mayor Joe Ayoub told Safety Harbor Connect at the time.

“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.”

Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub.

But on Monday night, local lawmakers did an about-face on their earlier decision, voting *3-1 against allowing dispensaries to operate within the city limits, joining neighboring Oldsmar and other Pinellas County communities, including Seminole and Reddington Shores, in banning the facilities. (*Commissioner Cliff Merz was absent from the meeting.)

“I’m leaning towards (voting) against the dispensaries because we can always change the ordinance a year from now and allow them if there’s that high of a demand for it,” Ayoub said during the first reading of Ordinance 2017-33 on Nov. 6.

Commissioner Andy Zodrow and Vice-Mayor Carlos Diaz also supported the ban, albeit for different reasons, while Commissioner Scott Long voted against it.

The commissioners also unanimously voted to restrict the location of cultivation and processing facilities to the City’s M-1 Light Industrial districts on Tenth Avenue South and Ninth Avenue North. Such facilities cannot be banned outright by local governments, according to the state, although the chances of receiving applications for such facilities are reportedly long.

The move to ban dispensaries came as a surprise to those who have followed the issue since Florida voters passed Amendment 2 by more than 70 percent last November.

Vice-Mayor Carlos Diaz.

City officials quickly enacted a temporary moratorium on dispensary applications in wake of the vote, and the ban was extended for an additional 180 days in June while officials sorted through the legalities of the new law well as subsequent legislation that passed in July.

After the August workshop, which featured several residents speaking in favor of allowing the facilities, the city seemed poised to join the list of pro-dispensary communities in Pinellas County, which includes Clearwater, Pinellas Park and St. Pete.

However, that position suddenly changed on Monday.

Of the four lawmakers in attendance, only Vice Mayor Diaz took a hardline stance against allowing dispensaries, stating, “I’m totally against it, now and in the future.”

Commissioner Zodrow said he was conflicted about the subject, citing the location of dispensaries nearby as his reason for supporting the ban, while Commissioner Long took state legislators to task before voting against the ban.

Commissioner Scott Long.

“I’ll start by stating for the record my extreme anger for at the Florida legislature for handcuffing us on this issue and many others,” Long said, adding, “we’re not allowed to ban processing and cultivating in the city, however we are able to regulate where it goes.”

“Conversely, we are allowed to ban dispensaries, but are somewhat limited as to how we can regulate them. So if that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is absolutely ridiculous.”

Long added he was against the “NIMBY” argument, noting “we had 72 percent of the state that voted for this and now everybody is saying, ‘well, I want it but I just don’t want it in my backyard.’ And I have a problem with that.”

After receiving several public comments against allowing the dispensaries, including some colorful remarks from longtime resident Linda McKnight and passionate pleas from local medical professionals, the commissioners directed City Manager Matt Spoor to draft a new ordinance banning dispensaries and relegating cultivating and processing facilities to the M-1 districts.

The new ordinance is scheduled to be presented for first reading on Monday, Nov. 20.

After the meeting, Mayor Ayoub elaborated on his decision.

“It’s a tough issue,” he said. “A lot of people voted to allow medical marijuana, but they’re not thrilled about allowing it in their town.”

When asked what led him to change his mind about banning dispensaries, Ayoub said, “I think this option gives us flexibility to add them in the future if we want to. It keeps the door open. Plus it’s available nearby.”

How do you feel about the decision to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in Safety Harbor? Let us know in the comments below or on the Safety Harbor Connect Facebook page.

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  1. It’s not illegal… it’s medicine. It’s not their choice. It’s our choice and we voted yes. Sorry to the 30% of you that don’t like it.

  2. the big problem is we either ban them or have no control over them – there is no middle ground thanks to Tallahassee. Hopefully Tallahassee will change the law to allow us to control them.

  3. Ive been waiting over 50 years for MJ to be legal. The whole fight is about money power and politics. SAD! I guess since Im now 73 years old I can give up my hopes that the legalization will happen in my lifetime.

  4. Safety Harbor encompasses a wide area, for example the area around the hospital, along McMullen booth Rd, or the strip malls of Northwood plazas, etc. could be appropriate. But allowing the dispensaries to go up in a residential neighborhood is not the right choice for the Safety Harbor Community. The statement being made about 72% of the people voted for it, but don’t want it in their backyards is not a very fair statement. Of course we don’t want it in our residential neighborhoods, that’s why there are residential and business area.

  5. I feel that we are well represented and our commissioners are forced to make theses decisions on everybody’s behalf. Whether we agree or disagree we have entrusted the commissioners and I appreciate the job they do.

  6. It is pretty easy to figure out each of those individual motivations. More money, commercial real estate, or just to be in the Limelight of a controversial issue. It makes me sick. We are now finding out the teenage use is dangerous and can cause psychotic episodes. The drug is now widely available to those who “need” it. Our commissioners are brave take a moral stance against something that is still controversial. In addition, this is not a stance that anyone in office wants to be remembered for. The closest dispensary is 2.9 miles away from City Hall. This is not a need for anyone except those wishing to profit from it. I certainly didn’t move here to have access to a marijuana dispensary. At last count at least 88 cities in Florida band dispensaries . I don’t want a dispensary as much as I don’t want, a tattoo parlor or a strip club. The risk is greater than the reward . Let me know when it’s available at Walgreens or CVS.

  7. These comments have been very interesting for me to read. This is a very complex situation, not because of the controversial nature of the subject but because of the Florida Legislature’s preemption of the subject of dispensaries. In June 2017 a law was made that said local governments can either ban dispensaries or they can be regulated no more than any pharmacy. No limits on numbers locations or anything further regulating them. I am in favor of medical marijuana but the Legislature incorrectly made this an all or nothing proposition. I still may support dispensaries in Safety Harbor and if I thought any resident was being denied access I would certainly support them in town. They are allowed in unincorporated Pinellas and Clearwater and one is currently located only 2.8 miles from Main St and 6th. And they deliver. No one is being denied access. The issue is much more complex than many think. Several of the Commissioners struggled with the Legislature’s limitations on local regulations. And if you feel strongly about this, please come to the Commission meetings and make your voice heard there.

    • We did show up to the original meeting, but instead they flip the decision! Typical. Very Disappointed in the shadiness of our local representatives!

  8. We elect officials to represent the people, and 72% of the people of Florida voted YES for medical marijuana. With the Safety Harbor ban on dispensaries, we are allowing revenue and taxes on a potentially lucrative business go elsewhere – and the elderly and sick who would benefit from the medical marijuana are now going to have to find transportation to some other city to fill their prescriptions? For some reason, it’s ok to have a dozen bars in Safety Harbor, but not a medical dispensary?

  9. Sudden reversal? Questionable.. And a medical bldg going up next to where they were considering agricultural use ( to grow)? It always comes down to what is most profitable not what is reasonable.

  10. Paraphrasing………Banning dispensaries now leaves it open to approving them in the future……that’s just about the most circular response I’ve ever heard.

  11. Another great opportunity for the city to step out of its shadow and show it’s actually going to grow with the times, goes down the tubes again!!! It’s amazing how this city seems to fight its own self to become a prosperous, and hip place to live or due business in, yet it can’t seem to step off its own feet to actually be the model. Again SH will wait for a neighboring city to take that leap and be the heroes.

    • worth repeating!
      ” It’s amazing how this city seems to fight its own self to become a prosperous, and hip place to live or due business in, yet it can’t seem to step off its own feet to actually be the model. Again SH will wait for a neighboring city to take that leap and be the heroes.”

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