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County Commissioners Reject Medical Marijuana Moratorium

Following nearly an hour of discussion, a 4-to-1 vote determined that Alachua County would not adopt a moratorium regarding medical marijuana dispensaries.

A notice of zoning in progress and the motion to advertise a public hearing for a moratorium was presented Tuesday during an Alachua County Board of County Commissioners meeting.

The moratorium would have allowed the county no more than six months to develop a comprehensive plan and code of amendments for the regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries.

County Attorney Michele Lieberman said that she requested the notice in order to allow the county enough time to develop regulations for medical marijuana distribution.

“We are looking toward the future,” she said.

Robert Wallace, the owner of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm in Alachua, said that his business applied and obtained a license from the state of Florida to produce medical marijuana.

“We are essentially building a pharmaceutical company with an agricultural production,” he said.

Lieberman said that regulations need to be put in effect to avoid potential abuse, such as the possibility of a a surplus of distribution locations popping up.

“This is not a Colorado-style pot shop,” Wallace said of his business. “There is a lot of misconception in the public’s mind that there is going to be some kind of retail marijuana establishment on every corner…nothing could be further from the truth.”

Wallace said that he supports zoning regulations, but not a moratorium because Chestnut Hill Tree Farm would not be permitted to open a dispensary in an unincorporated area.

David Coffey, speaking on behalf of Chestnut Hill, said that adopting a moratorium would disallow dispensaries to commit to buying or leasing property to provide the needed medication.

Coffey said that if the board were to adopt a moratorium, Alachua County would be standing in the way of people receiving life-saving medication.

Depending on the adoption of the moratorium, Wallace said that Chestnut Hill Tree Farm would be ready to dispense oil-based medical marijuana products by the fall.

District 5 County Commissioner Charles Chestnut IV said that he supports a moratorium because it would allow the county staff to ensure everything is moving toward the future needs of the county.

“This gives staff the opportunity to be fair to everybody,” he said.

District 4 County Commissioner Ken Cornell, however, said that he does not support a moratorium because it is unnecessary and would be counterproductive.

“I do not think that this is a current issue locally,” he said. “And I think we have time to work…and come up with regulations to regulate the zoning of this practice.”

Cornell said that rather than adopting a moratorium, the county staff could review, study and prepare a comprehensive plan and code of amendments to potentially regulate marijuana distribution establishments in accordance with state law.

With the exception of County Commissioner Chestnut, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners voted to pass the substitute motion recommended by Cornell in lieu of a moratorium.

“The staff will work as expeditiously as possible to bring back appropriate regulations,” said District 3 County Commissioner and Chair Robert Hutchinson.


Lauren is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.