County waiting on state rules for medical marijuana

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County will wait until the Florida Legislature releases the state guidelines for the sale of medical marijuana before working on the county’s rules in regard to zoning of medical marijuana dispensaries.

At the Thursday Okeechobee County Commission meeting, County Attorney John Cassels gave the board an update on the state’s implementation of the Florida Amendment 2, which expands the use of medical marijuana.

Some forms of medical marijuana have been legal in Florida for several years, the attorney said. Amendment 2, which passed in the 2016 election, expands the allowed uses and also allows marijuana with higher THC content.

Mr. Cassels said he and the county administrator recently attended a marijuana summit hosted by Florida Association of Counties.

Before the election, Okeechobee County passed a six-month moratorium on marijuana sales in order to give the county time to set up a plan. However, since the state plan will not be in place before that moratorium ends, he advised the board to extend the moratorium.

Mr. Cassels advised that it is not productive for the county to try to set their own rules until they have the state regulations to work from.

“One of my concerns is how does local regulation interplay with state regulation,” he said.

According to information provided at the marijuana summit, doctors can recommend someone having a qualifying condition to be on the state registry and acquire the medical marijuana product.

It’s licensed at the state level, he said.

The companies that are authorized to deal with medical marijuana in Florida must be responsible for the growing, processing and sale. It is a rigorous process to be licensed, he explained. They have to have a $5 million bond, and required security.

There are currently seven companies in the state. These companies were set up based on the low-THC medical marijuana that has been legal for a few years.

Mr. Cassels said the summit included “a panel of doctors which gave us a very interesting prospective about the benefits to certain patients.

“We have to keep in mind the real people who are suffering and who could be helped by the treatment,” he said.

Doctors will specify what type of marijuana the patient can obtain, and what delivery system to use, such as an inhaler.

He said the dispensaries are not allowed to sell smokable materials.

The attorney said some Florida counties are in the “wait and see-ish” category.

Some, like Okeechobee, have adopted moratoriums.

“A few had gone full-bore and adopted ordinances that ranged from dealing with it as a zoning issue and regulating where the growing, processing and sale can be done,” he continued.

“Others have gone into regulation and inspections, which will require additional local costs to hire people to do that,” he said.

He said when Okeechobee County does deal with the issue, he suggests they primarily deal with zoning requirements. He said in addition to dispensaries, there may be interest in growing medical marijuana in Okeechobee County.

He added that all of the medical marijuana is grown indoors.

The commission agreed to schedule a public hearing on the moratorium extension.

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