Medical marijuana gets green light, guidelines, in Tampa

- Businesses selling and processing medical marijuana were given the green light to do business in Tampa on Thursday.

Tampa City Council members voted in favor of new rules explaining where dispensaries and processing facilities would be allowed to open.

Earlier this year, the city council passed a moratorium putting medical marijuana dispensaries on hold as it waited on the state to set up a framework for implementing Amendment 2. The moratorium expired on August 15.

At Thursday night’s City Council meeting, all but Councilman Charlie Miranda voted to pass the guidelines for medical marijuana facilities that would require them to open at least 500 feet away from schools and restrict them to commercial and industrial zoned districts within the city.

“We’re limiting the dispensaries to places that have the normal kind of retail you would expect. It would be appropriate to put a dispensary on Dale Mabry [Highway], on Fowler Avenue or on Kennedy Boulevard,” said Councilman Harry Cohen.

Council members also agreed on a change that would allow dispensaries and processing facilities to operate in the same building.

Councilman Miranda said his decision for voting no on Thursday was that he does not agree that medical marijuana should be decided at the state level.

“Why did the Feds back away from it? Why didn’t they say we’re either all for this or no, this is the way it’s going to be,” questioned Miranda.

Two residents showed up at the meeting to speak out against opening medical marijuana dispensaries. Teresa Miller said she is concerned the drug is a gateway to more severe substances.

“Years ago, when my son smoked pot and spring boarded to opioids, a severe addiction, I told myself if I could save one family from going through what our family and thousands of families around our state have gone through with a disease of addiction, then I would,” said Miller.

After voting to approve the dispensaries, several council members explained their decision. Councilman Guido Maniscalco said he thought of his Italian grandfather, who suffered from prostate cancer, ultimately dying from the disease.

“At night time I would hear him and just the pain that he was in. Over there [in Italy] at that point, what could they do? Blood transfusions or give him morphine, but it was temporary,” said Maniscalco.

Years later, he said he wonders if medical marijuana could have made his grandfather’s final days less painful.

Miller argued that not everyone using medical marijuana is severely ill, with symptoms like insomnia, mood swings and chronic itching qualifying for the drug. She said she is worried misuse will be widespread.

“Voting for something to be legalized as a medicine by popular vote or through legislative does not make it a prescription drug,” said Miller.

The exact number of dispensaries that can open in the city will be partially decided by the state and based on how many people are prescribed medical marijuana.

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