Medical marijuana ordinance public hearing set

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Commission considered an ordinance related to the placement of medical marijuana dispensaries at its Oct. 12 meeting.

County Attorney John Cassels said during previous meetings, the county commissioners “decided philosophically we should treat the dispensaries, if and when we get them, like pharmacies.”

The attorney said even if the county prohibited medical marijuana dispensaries, it could not prohibit growing and processing medical marijuana. The county can also not prohibit the individual use of medical marijuana by those who live in the county.

The proposed ordinance would allow growing and processing medical marijuana in areas zoned for agriculture, industrial and heavy industrial. Mr. Cassels said the state law already requires the medical marijuana be grown and processed inside a building and under security.

The ordinance would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the same zoning where pharmacies are allowed. Medical marijuana dispensaries would be prohibited within 500 feet of a school; this is the standard set by the state.

The Oct. 12 public hearing was the first of two public hearings on the ordinance. State law requires the second public hearing be held after 5 p.m. to make it easier for members of the public to attend.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said he initially voted against allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in Okeechobee County.

He said after that meeting, a meeting with Dr. Ramesh Kumar changed his mind.

“I met with Dr. Kumar for over an hour,” he said. The additional information provided by the doctor caused him to drop his objections, he said.

“He said you can synthesize most of these drugs, but when you do that, you can cause complications that cause more damage,” he said.

“He gave me a different perspective on it. Dr. Kumar shares the same concern I have, that this could be the new pill mill, that people who really don’t need it can make a phone call and get a doctor to prescribe this for them,” Commissioner Culpepper continued.

He said Dr. Kumar thinks it is important for those who are using medical marijuana to be monitored by a doctor to make sure the dosage is correct.

“I certainly don’t want to deny anybody the opportunity to get relief from a natural source,” said Mr. Culpepper.

“I have no issues with the medical marijuana at this point,” he said.

Commissioner Kelly Owens said she did not vote in favor of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries, although she understands most of the voters are in favor of allowing the use of medical marijuana.

“Mine is a local control issue,” she said. “I think that it is in our best interest to wait and see what mandates will be and will not be enforced by the state,” she said.

“This is not about the idea of medical marijuana,” Ms. Owens said. “Our community overwhelmingly supports that, and I understand that.”

“There is so much unknown right now, I would prefer that we wait,” she said.

“I just want to be sure if we think that we’re doing these in the way that is best for our community,” she said.

No members of the public spoke at the public hearing during the Oct. 12 commission meeting.

The second public hearing on the medical marijuana ordinance will be Thursday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m. in the Okeechobee County Courthouse, 304 N.W. Second St.

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