Collier County bans medical marijuana dispensaries

Collier County Board of Commissioners put the ongoing controversy of whether to allow medical marijuana facilities to rest this week. It voted unanimously in favor of enacting an ordinance banning the establishment of medical marijuana facilities in unincorporated Collier.

The issue has been discussed off and on since 2018 when the county disapproved the land development code allowing dispensaries in the same zoning district as pharmacies in unincorporated Collier County. It evolved into an ordinance banning the establishment or location of treatment centers within most parts of the county. City of Naples has a similar ban in place.

This follows the planning commission’s unanimous disfavor of medical marijuana dispensaries in September and an alternate discussion by commissioners last month. A de facto ban had been in place until now, not officially banning treatment centers but not voting to allow them either.

A handful of public speakers supporting the ban spoke at the meeting, including 34-year county resident and retired Naples Police Department Lt. Jon Maines. He worried Naples will see an increase of homelessness if dispensaries are allowed and made a reference to the commissioners’ approval just minutes before of expanding David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health.

“Let’s not snatch the feet out of the jaws of victory here. We’ve got a great place to live. We don’t need 10,000 people being homeless on our streets,” Maines said. “And if we do, you’re going to need [more] of those David Lawrence centers.”

For Collier residents unable to travel to Lee County or Marco Island, many facilities offer home delivery options. However, My Florida Green General Manager Chad Taylor said the ordinance could promote inappropriate marijuana use. “By creating these extra barriers, this is what’s going to happen, people are going to self-medicate,” he said. “They’re going to do it with alcohol, they’re going to do it with pills and then, worse yet, they’re going to turn to street drugs, which are filled with fentanyl. None of those roads lead to good places.”

Commissioner William McDaniel agreed with Taylor’s point. “There will be an increase in illegal use of consumption of marijuana and we have a terrible issue going on in our community with fentanyl being laced with these street drugs,” McDaniel said.

Commissioner Rick LoCastro disagreed as there are more than 30 dispensaries accessible in Lee County. City of Marco Island allows medical marijuana facilities and is home to one dispensary.

“If I’m somebody who believes it’s effective, and I have some serious issues, and it helps me in an exponential way, we’re not keeping them from getting it,” LoCastro said.

Taylor responded that it’s difficult to understand the need when the issue of accessibility and health issues do not directly impact the resident. “With all due respect, you’re not folding up a wheelchair and putting it in your car, you’re not shaking uncontrollably from Parkinson’s, you’re not suffering from chemotherapy side effects,” he said.

By Florida statute, if medical marijuana facilities are allowed, the county can’t regulate how many can be established, which had Commissioner Dan Kowal concerned.

“It may not be great guys like [Taylor and My Green Florida building facilities], it may be the ones who are just trying to do it because they know down the road there’s a chance that Florida may get recreational marijuana,” Kowal said. “And by default, once they have their brick-and-mortar store, they will be the dispenser of recreational marijuana. So at that point, we have to look at the makeup of this county and what we want or don’t want, and that’s the important thing. It’s not the fact that we want to harm anybody. Medically this can help, I get it.”

McDaniel said that although he has mixed feelings about the ban, he will support the ordinance because of the need to make a decision based on constitutional statute that either allows the zoning amendment to allow dispensaries or ban facilities altogether.

“My main reason for supporting the ban is not because I’m a supporter of the ban, it’s because Collier County has been outside of my perception of the constitution of the state of Florida,” McDaniel said. “We had to do one of those two things, and we never did either …  which was why I started last year to bring forward the ordinance to allow them (dispensaries) again. But I want this county to be in conformity with the statute and the constitution.”

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