Companies file preliminary applications with Sarasota County to open medical marijuana dispensaries

AltMed, based in Sarasota, and Trulieve have begun the months-long process to win county approval

AltMed proposes a dispensary in the Copia Bay Shopping Center on Fruitville Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Two companies have filed preliminary applications with Sarasota County to open medical marijuana dispensaries — one on Fruitville Road in Sarasota; the other, on Jacaranda Boulevard in Venice.

Representatives of Trulieve Medical Dispensary and AltMed of Florida are seeking special exceptions to allow the operations, as provided for in a 2014 Sarasota County ordinance.

Trulieve and AltMed representatives had their first public discussions about their proposals during the county’s Oct. 19 Development Review Committee (DRC) meeting. That regular session allows staff from various departments to review preliminary applications and offer recommendations about next steps.

A county document explains that the DRC pre-application is the first step in the process of winning a special exception. Next, an applicant must conduct a neighborhood workshop with surrounding property owners. Then a formal application is submitted to the county. A review of that material for sufficiency normally takes 10 days, followed by a five-day formal review period. A Planning Commission public hearing is set after the staff reviews have been completed, and then the County Commission conducts a public hearing on the application. The process takes about three to five months, the Planning Services document notes.

In the materials it submitted to county staff on Oct. 10, AltMed proposes to open a dispensary that would comprise 2,984 square feet of floor space in Suites 119 and 127 at 5077 Fruitville Road, at the intersection with Richardson Way. The property, in the Copia Bay Shopping Center, is zoned Commercial General, the pre-application says.

Based in Sarasota, AltMed (Alternative Medical Enterprises) is being represented by attorney Robert K. Lincoln, who has his own practice in the city.

An engineering drawing submitted to Sarasota County shows the design for the dispensary. Image courtesy Sarasota County

AltMed LLC was incorporated in Florida in May 2014, with its principal office on Lake Osprey Drive in Lakewood Ranch. Its current place of business is 1451 Global Court in Sarasota, its 2017 annual report says.

In August, AltMed announced it was collaborating with Plants of Ruskin, an agricultural company founded in 1979 in Ruskin, to create AltMed Florida, one of only nine Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC) licensees in the state.

As a Sarasota-based company, AltMed long has had its sights on service to Florida patients, a news release said in announcing that collaboration. “[That] has always been our intent,” AltMed CEO Michael Smullen pointed out in the release. “Through years of research and the diligent efforts of our experts we have developed a pipeline of next-generation medical cannabis products to meet the unique needs of each patient,” Smullen added in the release.

Plants of Ruskin already had the necessary zoning and permits for a 150,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, the release noted.

AltMed already has dispensaries in Arizona, including one in Phoenix that opened about 10 days ago. A press release issued at the time said the success that dispensary already has demonstrated “is a pre-cursor of what’s to come in Florida. AltMed Florida expects to have 25 dispensaries across the state over the next couple of years.”

Trulieve proposes a dispensary at 1260 Jacaranda Blvd. in Venice (marked by the red balloon). Image from Google Maps

The Trulieve preliminary application, received by the county on Oct. 6, proposes a 4,821-square-foot dispensary at 1260 Jacaranda Blvd. in Venice. That site also is zoned Commercial General, the pre-application says.

Trulieve already has 10 dispensaries in Florida, including one on 14th Street West in Bradenton. Its website lists 16 more locations as “Coming Soon,” including one in Fort Myers and one in North Fort Myers, as well as a second one in Clearwater.

Trulieve has a partnership with two nurseries, the Tampa Bay Times reported in April, and it was the first company to open a dispensary in the state. “Trulieve has invested north of $15 million in the business since 2014,” CEO Kim Rivers told the Tampa Bay Times.

County’s handling of dispensaries

It also has delivery operations, the newspaper noted.

In November 2016, voters approved a Florida constitutional amendment that legalized the use of medical marijuana to treat individuals with specific debilitating diseases or conditions, as determined by a state-licensed physician. A bill Gov. Rick Scott signed on June 23 “created a regulatory structure for the administration of medical marijuana,” a July 7 Sarasota County staff memo explained.

The Trulieve preliminary application includes this design for its dispensary. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Written by Tom Polk, the county’s impact fee administrator, and Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson, the memo points out that in 2014, Sarasota County adopted an ordinance “that regulates the cultivation, processing, and/or dispensing of medical marijuana by special exception approval within the unincorporated area of Sarasota County.”

The memo added, “Specifically, the current Zoning Regulations limit cultivation to a ‘Cannabis Farm,’ which is only allowed by special exception [in three] zoning districts.” Those districts are Open Use Agriculture, Open Use Recreation and Open Use Estate.

Medical marijuana dispensaries may be allowed only in Office, Professional and Institutional (OPI), and Commercial General (CG) zoning districts, the memo pointed out.

The zoning regulations also prohibit loitering in parking areas at dispensaries; drive-through dispensaries; and co-location on the same property with any medical office, pain management clinic, pharmacy or other medical marijuana dispensary. Hours of operation are restricted, as well: Dispensaries can be open only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. No Sunday hours are allowed.

Trulieve operates a dispensary at 1103 14th St. W. in Bradenton. Image from the Trulieve website

The July staff memo further discussed the financial implications of medical marijuana. “In our review of other states and other jurisdictions,” the memo said, “business permit fees, licensing fees, and [sales] taxes are utilized to offset the costs associated in the regulation of both medical and recreational marijuana.” In 2016, the memo noted, medical sales in the state of Colorado totaled $438 million, and that state collected almost $200 million in marijuana tax revenues.

However, the Florida legislation prohibits the imposition of sales taxes on medical marijuana, the memo pointed out. However, the memo said, local governments can impose license and permit fees that are no greater than the fees charged to a pharmacy.

Almost exactly a year ago — during a joint meeting of the Charlotte and Sarasota county commissions — Polk discussed the amendments to Sarasota County’s pain clinic ordinance that allowed the county to deal with the state’s “Compassionate Care” marijuana law. Although board members anticipated passage of the amendment to the Florida Constitution on Nov. 8, 2016, Polk told the commissioners, that while “the main things … are the unknowns … I feel comfortable with what we have.”

Polk talked at length of the time he had spent in Colorado, on the county’s behalf, to observe conditions in the state and the City of Denver in regard to the sale of marijuana.