After vote, up to 19 dispensaries can open in Hillsborough Co.

- In a 6-1 vote, Hillsborough County commissioners decided Wednesday to award 19 dispensary storefront permits to state-approved medical marijuana growers.

The decision means an increase from the previous plan that called for 13 storefronts allowed in the county.

The only opposing vote came from Commissioner Pat Kemp. She argued all state-approved growers should be given a permit, instead of awarded them on a point system.

She says the system favors organizations with local, more experienced operations, as well as bigger businesses.

"We should not be picking one business over another," said Kemp. "It is absolutely unnecessary to put this point system, this restriction, on the free market."

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Tampa businessman Joe Redner spoke before the commission in favor of less regulation on dispensary operations.

"If there [are] too many businesses, then some will go out of business. It's the way the free market works," said Redner.

Trinity Miller, who lives in Temple Terrace, said putting a cap on the number of allotted dispensaries limits access or residents in unincorporated parts of the county.

"Capping the number of medical cannabis dispensaries is cruel to the patients who desperately need their medicine," said Miller.

"I'm concerned for my neighbors who suffer daily from Crohn's Disease, glaucoma, PTSD and Parkinson's Disease. These conditions inhibited their ability to attend the meeting," Miller added.

Several other residents spoke in favor of more government regulations on medical marijuana dispensaries. Ellen Snelling said she voted against Amendment 2, which was overwhelming approved by voters in 2016.

"Medical marijuana is a drug. It is harmful and addictive. Limiting the number of dispensaries is a good public health policy," said Snelling.

She told commissioners she is concerned that too much access will lead to marijuana getting into the wrong hands and being used for recreation.

"Remember the pill mills? Strict regulations will help prevent pot mills," said Snelling.

There are currently two medical marijuana dispensaries open and operating in Hillsborough County. The businesses also provide home delivery.

At the state level, Senators are expected to approve a plan this week that will grant 10 new licenses to growers, increasing the total number to 17. An additional four licenses for every 100,000 eligible patients registered in a statewide database could also be issued.

Each of those licensed growers would be allowed to have 25 dispensary storefront permits in Florida.

The state rule would still allow local jurisdictions to set limits on how many dispensaries could open within their communities.

"We're not disagreeing with the public today, and we do not want litigation, but it's very important for us to establish that starting point, that framework," said Commissioner Sandra Murman.

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