Saturday, May 26, 2018

Pot Shops Revisited

Hats off to Commissioners Penny Taylor and Donna Fiala! They stood firm in their opposition to pot dispensaries in Collier County, a courageous move and, I believe, the right one.

Though a 2-3 minority, the ladies prevailed because siting weed stores here requires a change in our land development code and that, in turn, takes a super-majority vote.

Medical marijuana has been a dilemma for Collier County from the get-go. Residents clearly want it, with 64% voting for its legalization in 2016. (The state voted 71% for med pot.) Some commissioners  have said the will of the voters should be respected, and that means allowing dispensaries here.

But the issue is not whether cannabis is okay for medical use -- that bridge has been crossed -- but rather where the pot shops should be located. Municipalities have limited options. They can ban dispensaries altogether or allow them wherever pharmacies are allowed, the only restriction being they must be at least 500 feet away from schools. That means they could pop up anywhere, on any street corner, 500 feet from any school.

Nowhere at all or anywhere at all. Not much of a choice.

That has led commissioners to short punt on 3rd down. They've put off a decision twice now in hopes Tallahassee would give them more choices. Or allow more discretion on zoning. They're looking for the Legislature to bail them out.

That's not going to happen. And, in any event, we don't need pot shops in Collier County. Anyone certified to use marijuana can get it delivered from dispensaries in Ft. Myers. Door-to-door service. Pot is just a phone call away. Even driving to Ft. Myers isn't debilitating for most people.

Some say this is much ado about nothing. Why fuss about something as harmless as marijuana? Let the growers come here and peddle their "medicine." Even if it doesn't work, it won't hurt anybody.

Not everyone agrees. Pot's effect on adolescents can be devastating, with increasing evidence it's addictive and a gateway drug. Dr. Allen Weiss, head of the NCH Healthcare System, was quoted in the Naples Daily News as saying marijuana is a starter drug for opioid abuse. And there is compelling evidence its use doubles the rate of car accidents and leads to increased crime.

If so, opponents say, why make it easy? Why open the door to trouble? Keep dispensaries out of Collier County.

Supporters say that's a spurious argument. Bad stuff happens only with recreational use. Toking all day is different than taking an occasionally gummy bear for pain. Medical pot, with its limited supply and controlled dosing, shouldn't present a problem, they say. And it's not like Florida is doing anything different than 28 other med pot states.

The process is well along here. Over 100,000 patients are now registered in Florida, and 13 operators are approved to grow and distribute the stuff. The financial incentive is enormous. There's big money to be made.

So you can be sure the pressure on Commissioners Taylor and Fiala will intensify. They will be told -- shouted at -- that pot shops are coming here sooner or later.  People want them. Why make sick folks drive all the way to Ft. Myers? That's downright inhumane. 

I say to Taylor and Fiala, hang in there.

With pot delivery just a phone call away, there is no good reason to allow dispensaries in Greater Naples. The risk may or may not be real. But why chance it?

 

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