City ponders medical marijuana

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee City Council wants a little more time before they decide to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city limits.

The council had two options presented to them Tuesday: Either allow or prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries.

The problem with allowing the dispensary is the city would have little power to regulate it. That regulation falls to new state law.

The city moratorium on medical marijuana is scheduled to end Oct. 21.

Mayor Dowling Watford said if no action is taken the state law will kick in at the end of the moratorium and allow medical marijuana dispensaries following the same zoning rules as pharmacies.

Local pharmacist Steve Nelson said medicinal marijuana is not an easy issue.

Pharmacies are not allowed to sell medical marijuana. Separate medical marijuana dispensaries must be established.

“I have seen pediatric seizures where medical marijuana plays a prominent role. Terminally ill cancer patients can also benefit,” he told the council.

Mr. Nelson said chronic arthritis patients also see benefit from medical marijuana.

The veteran pharmacist, who is president of a Florida association of small pharmacists, said the city needs to be careful when they consider this issue.

“I don’t want another pill mill,” he said.

“My suggestion is to consider me since I have over 40 years of pharmacy experience,” he said. “We must have control or it becomes a pill mill.”

He said if he opens a medical marijuana dispensary, it will have to be separate from his pharmacy business.

Mr. Nelson’s said his dispensary would be held to a high standard. He noted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency or DEA has investigated Okeechobee Discount Drugs to make sure he runs a clean shop.

“I’ve also talked to city police and the sheriff. I want to set up a dispensary but do it in the right way,” he said.

He told the city to make sure whomever gets the dispensary has years of experience to dispense marijuana.

This issue will not go away. The city will have to vote one way or another and they are running out of time.

City Attorney John Cook requested some time to speak with County Attorney John Cassels on the issue. The Okeechobee County Commission recently paved the way for a dispensary in the county. The city has jurisdiction over zoning in the city limits.

Mr. Nelson said wherever the dispensary is there has to be control. He said he would like to see the business that gets the license be owned by a pharmacist.

City Councilman Gary Ritter said in his opinion pharmacists should be the dispensary for medical marijuana.

Mr. Nelson said opioids are a major problem and many times are over prescribed, even to small children dealing with pain issues. He said medicinal marijuana has elements and chemicals that can’t be matched by other drugs.

“There is a good use for the medicinal. It can’t be stopped. They have billions for lawyers,” he said.

Mayor Watford said the city can’t regulate the industry. He said a pharmacy is allowed in all commercial zones.

“If it were treated like any other drug, I would support medical marijuana,” he said. He said the state legislature was rough on local governments this year and he can’t believe they didn’t allow cities to have some regulatory powers over medical marijuana.

Legalization of medical marijuana was supported by 66 percent of Florida voters at the ballot box last year.

Councilman Noel Chandler said he has seen people benefit from medical marijuana. He said the county will get a medical marijuana dispensary and even if the city does not allow one in the city limits, it would not be “in the boonies.” It will be right near the city.

“If they benefit then we should benefit,” he said.

Councilman Mike O’Connor was skeptical about allowing something that could cause problems that the city has to deal with.

“We are just fooling ourselves if we think nothing bad will come out of this. You’re living in a dream world,” he added.

The council opted to delay the vote until the next meeting on Sept. 5, at 6 p.m.

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