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Orange County Decides to Allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Medical marijuana clinics are popping up all over Florida, and doctors are specializing in recommending the drug now that it is legal in the state.

Steven Lemongello | Orlando Sentinel

Advocates cried and cheered as Orange County commissioners unanimously voted to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the county at their meeting Tuesday night.

The vote halts the tide of Central Florida cities — including several in Orange County — that have banned dispensaries because of the restrictions placed upon them by the Florida Legislature.

In what Mayor Teresa Jacobs called a “poison pill,” the Legislature passed a law allowing dispensaries but also mandated that cities and counties couldn’t regulate them any more than pharmacies. The controversial provision came even though more than 70 percent of Florida voters approved medical marijuana in a November 2016 referendum.

“Zero people showed up tonight to tell us not to do it,” he said. “Some of you chewed us out for no reason, but we’re going to vote yes anyway.”

But despite those concerns, commissioners said they did not want to go against the wishes of the people of Florida. More than two dozen gave emotional testimony in favor of approval.

“I made my mind up on this two years ago,” said Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, who got emotional talking about her husband’s health issues. “This is an easy decision for me. You see how personal it is.”

Many speakers — all of whom backed allowing dispensaries — had been worried the board would back the other ordinance being considered, which would have banned dispensaries across unincorporated parts of the county. They took out their frustrations on the board after a string of bans by cities including Winter Park, Winter Garden and Apopka.

Medical marijuana, he said, “is the law of the land, the law of the state of Florida. To not implement a law passed by the voters goes against everything I’ve grown up being taught.”

But several started to tear up when Commissioner Pete Clarke made a motion to vote on the ordinance and allow dispensaries instead.

“Zero people showed up tonight to tell us not to do it,” he said. “Some of you chewed us out for no reason, but we’re going to vote yes anyway.”

Medical marijuana, he said, “is the law of the land, the law of the state of Florida. To not implement a law passed by the voters goes against everything I’ve grown up being taught.”

Jacobs agreed, saying: “I understand how important this decision is. Even if you don’t understand the decision the public makes, it’s important to respect them.”

Commissioner Victoria Siplin said one precinct in her district voted 100 percent for the referendum last year.

“I work in politics, and everything runs through the I-4 corridor,” said Kirk Root, secretary of the Orange County Democratic Disabilities Caucus, who spoke about medical marijuana’s uses for people with cerebral palsy like himself. “For Orange County to vote in favor, that bodes well for other counties.”

Commissioner Betsy VanderLey raised the most concerns about the ordinance, questioning what allowing dispensaries in the tourism corridor would do to the county’s “family-friendly” reputation.

But Commissioner Emily Bonilla called the negative feelings about medical marijuana “a stigma.”

“If you make a decision based on a stigma and not something factual, that’s not doing the right thing,” she said.

Afterward, advocates said they are optimistic that dispensaries being allowed in one of Florida’s biggest counties would influence other cities and counties.

“I work in politics, and everything runs through the I-4 corridor,” said Kirk Root, secretary of the Orange County Democratic Disabilities Caucus, who spoke about medical marijuana’s uses for people with cerebral palsy like himself. “For Orange County to vote in favor, that bodes well for other counties.”

The ordinance would take effect Jan. 1.

Read the full story at the Orlando Sentinel

More cannabis stories at LedeTree

About Steven Lemongello

Steven Lemongello
Steven is an Orlando Sentinel Reporter covering Winter Park, Maitland, Kissimmee, St. Cloud & Osceola County. He also covers national politics and Orange County government for the Sentinel. Before joining the Sentinel in 2014, he worked at the Press of Atlantic City and the Jersey Journal in New Jersey.

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