Votes 3-2 to uphold earlier decision
The Apopka City Council voted 3-2 Wednesday to enact a six-month moratorium on dispensing medical marijuana, which would last through May 31st of 2017. Commissioners Doug Bankson, Billie Dean and Diane Velazquez voted in favor of the moratorium, while Mayor Joe Kilsheimer and Commissioner Kyle Becker voted against the measure. The first reading of this ordinance won by a 5-0 vote at the previous City Council meeting on November 2nd, and on November 8th Florida voters approved Amendment 2 (the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative) with 71% of the vote.
Eight public speakers primarily with ties to the Apopka growing industry expressed their opposition to the moratorium, explaining it would hurt their ability to secure investors, and slow down the progress they have already made. Specifically they believe their properties and industry is a perfect fit for growing and dispensing medical cannabis.
“I’ve been here for 58 years,” said Bill Dewar, President of Dewar Nurseries. “Dewars payroll is $10-million per year. We spend $5-million on purchases to businesses in the city. Horticulture is a perfect fit for medical cannabis.”
“I’m sure I’m prejudiced for this,” said Fred Turley of White Sands Nurseries. “But I’ve looked at the city maps and the areas and what’s there and I believe it’s a perfectly suited area for this purpose.”
But Apopka Police Chief Michael McKinley wants the six-month moratorium to re-evaluate if the locations are still the most suitable places for the City of Apopka.
“I thoroughly understand everybody’s concerns and not to impede anybody’s business, but the city has changed in the year-and-a-half since that ordinance has been enacted. If you look at the designated grow area, it’s surrounded by sub-divisions now. If you look at a little bit of history from Colorado which first started with marijuana, the task force there studied the effect marijuana had on Colorado, and from 2006-2011 drivers who tested positive for marijuana involved in traffic fatalities increased 114% in five years. Denver’s Department of Safety reported there were 7,000 reported crimes within 1,000 feet of dispensaries in the first six months of 2012-13. I’m not trying to stop anyone from the growing and dispensing of marijuana and I certainly can sympathize with those that need medical marijuana. I just think currently that the city is looking at the development code and the direction the city is going, and we need to look at whether the dispensary locations are still appropriate.”
Before the City Council began its discussion, City Attorney Cliff Shepard clarified the issue.
“No one is arguing about whether marijuana is a good thing or not. That’s not the point. But the overarching concern is that the six-month period that the state has to put their rules in place. I don’t think we’re on an imminent path in the next two or three or four weeks of having dispensaries.”
“I struggle because it seems like a moot point to have the moratorium,” said Becker.
“I think that’s an argument you can make,” said Shepard.
“And we’re not up here saying marijuana is a good or bad thing,” Becker said. “The voters of Florida made it clear that’s what they want, and I was going through the precincts in Apopka and we said the same thing. I fully appreciate the Chief’s (McKinley) safety concerns, but our residents have spoken and I don’t know when you pass a law like that if you have any grand ideas that it’s not going to be next to you at some point in the community where you reside, do business or live. But I kind of like the idea of a moratorium with an exception of having the areas already designated by previous ordinance. To me that makes sense.”
“Moratoriums are for clear and present danger,” said Kilsheimer. “Moratoriums are for something that is out there hanging over you so that you can take a breather on so that you can figure out how you are going to respond and what you are going to do next. I have misgivings on this moratorium. I don’t know how it’s going to change in six months. The idea of taking a breather on the public safety is the only compelling argument. That’s the clear and present danger that a moratorium addresses.”
“The potential danger that is there I think is very real,” said Bankson. “The fact that Orlando took a step back and said this is happening faster than we anticipated, that’s what I want to do so that law enforcement can make sure this is reigned-in and that it isn’t hitting our community… but for law enforcement to look this over and make sure that we can keep it safe, that’s where I lean.”
“I am a retired law enforcement officer, and for me public safety is my priority,” said Velazquez. “The safety of the community and the residents. I’m going to err on the side of public safety. We as the City of Apopka need to protect our community.”
“One of the reasons you have two hearings – a first reading and then a second, is that you have the opportunity to hear objections raised by the community who think we are going in the wrong direction,” said Kilsheimer. “I will confess I have had misgivings, because we are sending mixed messages. The state has a six-month period to put its rules in place. I think we can adequately protect the community under that time frame, and it will allow our growers to be first to market.”
Commissioner Dean did not comment during the discussion, but did state his agreement with the moratorium before the final vote.