Split Boca City Council votes to lift ban on medical marijuana

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By: Dale King Contributing Writer

On a split vote of 3-2, the Boca Raton City Council has chosen to allow medical marijuana dispensaries within the city’s borders, overturning a local prohibition on use of the drug for treatment of illnesses dating back to 2014.

Councilman Andy Thomson led the drive for the ordinance change that came on a vote Feb. 11 that followed a lengthy public hearing and considerable debate by council members. He voted in favor of getting rid of the ban, and was joined by Mayor Scott Singer and Councilwoman Monica Mayotte.

Voting against lifting the proscription on medicinal pot use were Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers and Councilwoman Andrea Levine O’Rourke. Both suggesting delaying action on the proposal until further changes to the laws controlling medical marijuana are adopted either at the state or federal level.

In fact, after the 3-2 rejection, Rodgers brought the same measure back to the floor and called for another vote on it, with the addition of a date that it would go into effect June 1, 2021. He and O’Rourke voted in favor; Singer, Thomson and Mayotte voted in the negative.

The votes followed the second public hearing on a plan to eliminate the ban. As at the first hearing Jan. 28, citizens spoke both for and against it.

Shari Kaplan Stellino, founder and CEO of the medical marijuana assistance organization, Cannectd Wellness, said the substance has helped her son overcome a central nervous system disorder. She said he grew from a non-communicative, seizure-riddled four-year-old to a 17-year-old who is about to graduate from Boca Raton High School and move on to Florida Atlantic University without any need for assistance.

Several residents voted in opposition, expressing concerns that a change in the zoning law could have “unintended consequences” and could open the city to proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries. Some also said the presence of marijuana sales locations could increase crime.  Council members said studies have shown no connection between medical marijuana dispensaries and hikes in criminal activity.

The city’s development services staff created a report on the situation and came out in the end opposing the lifting of the ban.

Mayor Singer said the council’s “hands are tied” by state laws impacting the dispersal of medical marijuana. Once the final vote was taken, he even asked for more ideas from colleagues on how to come up with a better solution. “We have tried our best,” he added.

During the voting and discussion, council members on both sides of the issue acknowledged other’s efforts to reach a decision that could please all.

As the vote approached, Rodgers said he had “some concerns overall. I am inclined to wait. I am not happy with this. I feel better off waiting” until further action is forthcoming from the state legislature.

Thompson, Singer and Mayotte all said they feel no changes are coming from the state legislature this year.

O’Rourke pointed out that three marijuana dispensaries have opened on the other side of Boca Raton’s southern border in Deerfield Beach. She said she has “heard minimal outreach from the public” and has “tried to make something fit into what doesn’t fit.”

In his comments, Thompson said a lot of sick people need medical marijuana to ease the pain of their maladies, and can’t wait another year for relief. He said he is trying to balance their need for medical aid with the city’s need to avoid unexpected zoning consequences and the proliferation of dispensaries.