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Old 11-13-2018, 05:53 AM #1

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Florida: Point of View: Let cities decide where marijuana facilities can grow

Point of View: Let cities decide where marijuana facilities can grow
For some people suffering from a debilitating condition, medical marijuana is the answer to their prayers.
Florida voters saw that need and made sweeping changes to Florida’s medical marijuana policy in a 2016 referendum. Today, people diagnosed with cancer, glaucoma, HIV and a host of other diseases have another option – and they are taking it.
But with the skyrocketing demand for medical marijuana in Florida comes questions about how best to regulate this new industry and whether local governments should have more say.
Recent numbers from Florida’s Department of Health showed 180,000 people certified to use medical marijuana, with almost 460 patients being added each day. At this rate, the state would have more than a half million registered patients by the end of 2019 and would have one of the largest, if not the largest, medical marijuana programs in the country.
That’s why it’s so critical that we allow this important industry to grow – but in a way that makes sense for each community. Unfortunately, the state has a one-size-fits-all solution to deciding where to allow medical marijuana facilities in Florida. And it’s going o hurt us in the long run unless we allow local governments to play a much bigger role.
Medical marijuana facilities are the licensed businesses required by law to handle the growing, processing, manufacturing and transporting of all the marijuana products they sell to patients. Right now, municipalities have two choices when it comes to dispensing facilities. They can ban them, or they can allow dispensing facilities and regulate them like pharmacies – which, for many cities, means having no cap on how many there are.
When it comes to cultivation and processing facilities, cities and counties have even less say where these facilities are allowed to be built. Crafting sensible policies for how cannabis facilities will fit into our communities is hard, but it’s almost impossible if the state doesn’t allow local governments to have a say.
It’s unrealistic that state officials could craft one set of standards for cannabis cultivation and processing facilities that would work in Florida’s diverse communities from Miami Beach to Apalachicola.

Medical marijuana has not been approved by the Federal Drug Administration and the science is still limited. What is clear, however, is that these facilities can be a good thing for local economies. For example, cultivating and processing facilities are credited with revitalizing parts of cities like Denver and Oakland. In some cases, medical marijuana centers have led to higher property values and increased job growth – both pluses for surrounding communities.
States like Colorado have shown that local control can effectively fit into the state regulatory system, and that Florida doesn’t have to preempt local authority to successfully regulate the medical marijuana industry.

The state should continue to be the primary policymaker for the medical marijuana industry, but it just makes sense that the elected officials on the ground -- and not in the Capitol -- should have more say over day-to-day issues that affect their local communities. Increased local control comes with the responsibility and visibility of regulating an issue on which Florida voters spoke very clearly in 2016, and communities will and should be watching their local officials closely.
Local leaders are the ones who know best where and how these facilities will fit within their small town or big city. Local governments can also compliment that state regulatory system by providing a crucial network of frontline staff to inspect and enforce laws for the state.
It’s critical that Floridians work together and think ahead before any problems crop up. Providing relief for suffering people should be a good thing. Florida residents cast the votes to allow for medical marijuana. Now it’s just a matter of making sure it’s done right.
Editor’s note: Bax is an attorney and consultant who served as the director of the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use for three years.
The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good things is my religion. Thomas Paine ( Godfather of the American Revolution)
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