Maitland City Council members are lighting up a debate over whether medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed in the city, should the statewide referendum legalizing the practice pass in November.
Despite demonstrated medical benefits of the drug, a former mayor called the potential legal medical dispensaries “head shops” and another peppered talks with “just say no.”
A draft ordinance composed by City Attorney Cliff Shepard with the assistance of Community Development Director Dick Wells presented to the Council on April 28 allows medical marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in the city limits, but only in one very specific zoning district. It’s a district so small, there’s only one building in the city categorized under it. One that happens to be across the street from the Maitland Police Station.
“This is an effective way of doing it without saying it’s prohibited, because its not,” Shepard said. By drafting the ordinance now, he said, Maitland can try to protect itself and preempt state regulations on medical marijuana dispensary locations by already having zoning rules in place if the referendum passes.
But, Wells said, as the ordinance currently stands, it’d be nearly impossible for a dispensary to actually attain other city permitting to sell from the one properly zoned building.
Councilwoman Bev Reponen said she supports the tight regulation to start, knowing that if and when the referendum passes that the city can always loosen the law if needed, which she said is always easier than trying to add additional restrictions after it’s already hit the market. “At least it stops the immediacy of the problem,” she said.
Mayor Howard Schieferdecker readily agreed.
“If we start very strict, you can always change,” Schieferdecker said. “… If there’s people who really need this, then we can relook at it.”
Shepard told Council members that its up to them how freely they want the prescription drugs to be available within city limits if legalized. “It’s a faucet and you guys have got your hands on the knob,” he said.
Councilman Ivan Valdes said he was in favor of shutting it off altogether instead of ceremonially passing an ordinance that implies sales will be allowed, while simultaneously making setting up shops nearly impossible.
“If the law were to pass … I would have no problem with them having somewhere in Maitland to get the drug,” Valdes said.
But, he said, “If we’re going to effectively say you can’t have it in Maitland, then let’s just say you can’t have it in Maitland.”
Former Maitland mayors Sascha Rizzo and Doug Kinson took turns during the public period of discussion to tell the city to “just say no.”
“Understand if you allow head shops to come to the city of Maitland … this will degrade the entire community of Maitland. It will damage the entire city. You cannot allow this to happen,” Rizzo said.
“Just say no … we don’t want dope in our city.”
Council members requested additional information from city staff regarding how cities in other states with legalized medical marijuana have handled regulations, and scheduled to spark discussions back up at their June 9 meeting.