Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs described a medical marijuana decision forced on them by the Legislature as feeling like “a gun to our head” as she and county commissioners heard emotional testimony Tuesday from more than two dozen patients and advocates.
Steven Lemongello | Orlando Sentinel
The County Commission held the first of two hearings on whether to ban or allow medical marijuana dispensaries on Tuesday, after postponing any decision for months by extending a temporary moratorium on them. Meanwhile, municipalities such as Winter Garden and Winter Park have banned dispensaries because of rules imposed by the state.
In the public session, Carol Green of Winter Park said she had PTSD and insomnia after 18 years as an Orange County Sheriff’s Office 911 operator, “and all I want to do is let Orange County give a little something back to me. … All I want to do is sleep.”
Tricia Dennis of Orlando, a single mother of a young boy, said medical marijuana “is what’s keeping my son alive. I don’t want to leave this community, and I love this community.”
“You say you have a gun to your head, Mayor Jacobs?” Dennis said. “[Imagine] that’s your child.”
While a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2016, the law passed this year by the Legislature requires cities and counties to regulate dispensaries exactly as they would pharmacies.
Among Central Florida cities, only Oviedo is moving forward with an ordinance allowing dispensaries. Orlando has declared its two dispensaries on North Orange Avenue to have been grandfathered in, a strategy county attorney Whitney Evers called “a somewhat risky position to take.”
Speaking before the commission, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, described the Legislature’s rules as a “trap to share the blame with local governments. It muddies the water further and voters just blame everyone. But I fear they’re going to blame you.”
Jacobs partially agreed with Smith, saying the law “puts local governments between a rock and a hard place, and I’m really just trying to understand why. … To say, ‘If you don’t like it, just ban it’? That is not a situation I ever remember being in.”
Smith argued two locations in Orlando were not enough to meet the needs of patients in Central Florida, saying delivery costs can quickly add up.
Jacobs said she had heard the Legislature would take up changes to the law in 2018, but Smith said he was told by Republicans nothing would happen until 2019 at the earliest.
After the meeting, Jacobs called the testimony “compelling and eye-opening” but said she was undecided on a ban and didn’t know what the board would do when it returns on Nov. 14 for its second hearing on the issue.