Orange County OKs medical marijuana dispensaries

By Erin Murray, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 14, 2017, 10:16 PM EST

The Orange County Commission decided against banning medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday evening for unincorporated areas.

“In spite of the fact that people think that elected officials don’t listen, what I love about local government is that you can show up at this hearing, you can stand up and speak, and you can change the course of history," said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, with tears in her eyes. "And that is what we saw happen here.”

Board members each cited numerous reasons why they voted 'yes' to allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.

“With these numbers in my hand," said Vice Mayor Victoria Siplin, District 6. "I have to go with what particularly my voters voted for, regardless of what Tallahassee has done to us."

“There are very compelling reasons to do this, one is that it’s the law of the land, and it’s the law of the state of Florida," said Commissioner Pete Clarke, District 3.

In the crowd Tuesday were many current medical marijuana patients, including Tricia Dennis' son Noah. Dennis has been fighting for this for a long time.

“Amazing," said Dennis. "I think that every person’s story mattered, and I knew it would, but sometimes you wonder how much it mattered. Well obviously it mattered a lot." 

Florida voters approved the use of medical marijuana during last year’s election. But state lawmakers have implemented rules that prevent Orange County from determining where marijuana dispensaries can be located and how many of them can be built in the county.

“We want to be in a position where we are honoring the will of the voters in implementing something, but doing it in a way we feel best protects our communities against unintended consequences,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said at an Oct. 31 county commission meeting.

The law dictates that anywhere a pharmacy, such as Walgreens or CVS, can be located, so can a medical marijuana dispensary.

That's a concern for some Orange County leaders, who do not want marijuana dispensaries near schools, churches or theme parks.

The Orange County Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended the county commission ban the dispensaries, since the state says the county can’t regulate their location.

All but one person who signed up to speak at last month's meeting spoke in favor of allowing the dispensaries. Tuesday, all of the public comments were in favor of allowing dispensaries.