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Revised medical marijuana dispensary law gets first no

The first look at a proposed law that would overturn Boca’s medical marijuana dispensary ban got a no vote.

The city’s Planning & Zoning Board’s 2-to 2 split meant denial, chairman Arnold Sevell said after Thursday’s meeting.

But the proposed law will still move on for city council consideration, he said.

The amended zoning would remove dispensaries as prohibited uses and allow dispensaries and pharmacies in 15 city zoning districts.

But after revising the law at council’s request, city staff still recommended turning it down.

“Nearby dispensaries deliver,” noted chief city planner Tamashbeen Rahman.

A map showed six legal dispensaries from 0.35 to 2.33 miles from Boca city borders. Four are in Deerfield Beach. One each are in western Delray Beach and western Boca Raton, both in Palm Beach County.

“We have no control once we open the door,” said Brandon Schaad, the city’s development services director.

State law also severely restricts the city’s ability to limit and manage dispensaries, once they’re allowed, he added.

The proposed new law would also require at least 5,000-square feet built after a certain date. That could have the effect of limiting the number of dispensaries.

“We have four tenants in unincorporated Palm Beach County,” said Maria Camporeale, a commercial leasing agent for Investments Limited. “They have different sizes from 1,700 to 4,200 square feet. We propose 2,500 to 3,000 is probably the right size.”

“We also want the square footage improved,” said Daniel Sparks, compliance director for Trulieve. The firm has dispensaries in Boynton Beach, Deerfield Beach, West Palm Beach and many other Florida locations.

“Dispensaries are highly secure, more secure than banks,” he said to explain how the state law works. “No one is coming in who isn’t allowed to be there. Everything is controlled. You’re not grabbing anything off the shelf.”

Prescriptions, called recommendations, are issued by Florida doctors. State law limits the amount of medical marijuana that can be prescribed. Properties that have a mortgage can’t have a dispensary tenant. Banks are federally insured, and marijuana is still illegal federally, he added.

Rick Coffin compared the drug to the opiod crisis and voted against the revised bill. So did fellow board member Larry Snowden. “My concern is about abuse and the limited ability for cities to have control,” he said.

“Cannabis helps more people than it hurts. There are more than 300,000 patients in Florida,” Sparks said. “The demand is outpacing the supply.”

“This is medicine and these are sick people,” said Eric Sevell, who often speaks in favor of lifting Boca’s dispensary ban. “I’m pleading with the board not to be distracted by red herrings. It’s time to move forward.”

Florida lawmakers passed legislation in 2017 to implement the medical marijuana legalization voters approved.

Boca city council approved a ban in October 2017 and has requested updates. This council asked staff to draft zoning regulations to allow dispensing facilities.

By Marci Shatzman

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