Regulations prohibiting sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana in Sarasota County, if state legalizes drug, set for late August and October

County Commissioner Moran makes the motion to authorize advertisement of the draft ordinance

A staff chart explains the background on legalization of medical cannabis in Florida. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With a unanimous vote this week, the Sarasota County Commission authorized two public hearings on a proposed zoning text amendment that would prohibit any retail sales, cultivation, processing, or research, testing and development involving recreational marijuana in the unincorporated parts of the county.

Staff had drafted the proposed ordinance following direction from the County Commission in late May.

Thanks to a July 10 motion by Commissioner Michael Moran — who initiated the discussion earlier this year on such regulations — the schedule tentatively calls for the public hearings to be conducted on Aug. 29 and Oct. 10.

The commissioners originally were set to vote on authorizing the hearings during their regular meting on June 13. However, with Moran absent because of a death in his family, his colleagues asked staff to continue the discussion until after his return.

On July 10, Moran reiterated a point he has made in the past: “I do believe the medical cannabis [used legally in Florida] is the Trojan horse for recreational marijuana to come through this state and this county.”

Commissioner Michael Moran. File photo

“I do acknowledge and recognize the benefits of medical cannabis,” Moran said. “I think it does … give relief for many of all ages …” However, he continued, “I think it’s incredibly naïve to ignore the powerfully political lobbying that’s happening in Tallahassee” to make a transition possible from legalization of medical marijuana to legalization of recreational marijuana. “I do think the [proposed county] ordinance goes a long way to differentiate the medical cannabis from the recreational use.”

Commissioner Charles Hines and Chair Nancy Detert both pointed out that when the State of Colorado legalized recreational marijuana several years ago, it allowed county leaders flexibility in their regulations of it.

If recreational marijuana is legalized in Florida, Detert noted, the Legislature “will probably look to what other states did. … Colorado allowed each county to decide. So you have the bolder university types, and they went with [legal recreational marijuana],” Detert said, “and then you have the conservative county around the Air Force Academy [that] didn’t want it.”

“One of the things they usually do in Tallahassee,” she continued, “is to say [to county leaders], ‘If you’ve already had [a law] in place, you get to keep it.’”

Detert served in both the Florida House and Senate before term limits necessitated her stepping down from her position in the latter chamber.

Detert added of the proposed county ordinance “I think it’s probably a good idea. So far, we don’t need it, but it’s not a direction we want to go in.”

Commissioner Paul Caragiulo. File photo

Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said he was “happy to support authorization [to advertise the proposed ordinance], because, obviously, that’s the best way to facilitate a dialogue that needs to happen.” Setting public hearings, he indicated, will “start the process. … I look forward to hearing the debate on both sides, of what it all really means.”

Moran did note that he had had “a fair amount of input from the taxpayers and residents of Sarasota County” on the issue, and even communications from residents of other counties. “I think it’s incredibly important to differentiate to the public on this,” he added: The proposed ordinance deals only with non-medical cannabis.

“We will hear from the people that we represent as to what they want to do in this county,” Detert pointed out.

“Yes,” Caragiulo replied.

The motion the board members approved also waives a hearing before the county’s Planning Commission — since the County Commission initiated the zoning text amendment; and it waives the requirement for a public hearing after 5 p.m.

A stipulation for 5:01 p.m. public hearings in certain circumstances was incorporated into county regulations to enable people who hold jobs with traditional hours to be able to attend those hearings.

Provisions of the proposed ordinance

A graphic explains some of the facets of the proposed ordinance. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the approximately 11 minutes spent on the July 10 agenda item, Donna Thompson, the county’s zoning administrator, explained that the draft ordinance was written on the basis of guidance the commissioners had provided.

She did note that the new regulations do not address the potential conversion of an approved medical marijuana dispensary in the unincorporated part of the county into a non-medical marijuana dispensary, if recreational marijuana becomes legal in Florida.

In early April, the commissioners voted 4-1 — with Moran in the minority — to approve two medical marijuana dispensaries — one on Jacaranda Boulevard in Venice; the other, on Fruitville Road in Sarasota.

A 2014 ordinance the commission approved prior to the legalization of medical marijuana in the state allows the board to restrict such businesses to specific zoning districts. Even then, an applicant has to seek commission approval of a special exception to open a dispensary.

The new, proposed revision to that county Zoning Code does the following:

  • “Prohibits the sale of non-medical marijuana within unincorporated Sarasota County.”
  • “Prohibits the research and/or processing of non-medical marijuana.”
  • “Amends the characteristics of Retail Sales and Service, indicating that ‘All sales of marijuana other than Medical Marijuana’ are ‘Uses Not Included.’”
  • Prohibits the cultivation of non-medical marijuana in any county zoning district.
  • Permits the sale of medical marijuana only “within approved Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.”
  • Provides new and/or amended definitions for the following: “Non-Medical Marijuana,” “Qualifying Medical Condition,” “Medical Marijuana,” “Medical Marijuana Dispensary,” “Medical Marijuana Treatment Center,” “Medical Use,” “Non-Medical Marijuana Sales,” “Caregiver,” “Qualified patient,” and “Non-Marijuana Research and/or Processing Facility,” among others.

Some of those definitions were changed to conform to the state statutes, Thompson pointed out.