Winter Garden Commission votes unanimously to go ahead with medical marijuana dispensary ban

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. — After hearing from several residents who wanted the Winter Garden Commission to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, the group voted unanimously to go forward with a ban on the businesses.

Winter Garden city leaders have been mulling a ban since medical marijuana was approved by 70 percent of Florida voters.

The problem the city faced was that dispensaries are treated the same as pharmacies in terms of zoning, and the state law does not allow local municipalities to designate special zoning rules for the operations.

The only other choice they had was to ban dispensaries.

Winter Garden resident Joseph Richardson spoke to commissioners Thursday, saying that voters approved medical marijuana in the state and the city should abide by that decision and allow dispensaries in the city.

“Seventy percent of Florida voters said they want this,” Richardson said.

City Manager Mike Bollhoefer, though, told commissioners that until they have more ability to regulate dispensaries, they should enact the ban.

“We’re recommending the ban until such time the Legislature makes adjustments to their legislation to give us some control over the zoning and location of the stores,” he said.

Resident Sherri Allen argued that medical marijuana would benefit the community, not hurt it.

“We have alcohol in the city. We have guns, gun sales, and those are much worse and create a lot more crime than medical marijuana dispensaries do,” she said.

Knox Nursery, which grows medical marijuana in Winter Garden, would not be affected by the ordinance.

Attorney Tara Tedrow, who represents Knox, said if local governments continue to ban dispensaries, they open themselves up to legal challenges for denying patients reasonable access to the drug.

“If their only option is to have to pay for at-home delivery services on a monthly basis to be able to get the medication that they’re being ordered by a physician, that could cause a problem on a legal front in the future,” she said.

The ordinance had its first reading and first vote during Thursday’s meeting.

The final vote will take place in two weeks.