Manatee municipalities ban pot dispensaries

- Every municipality in Manatee County has now officially banned pot dispensaries from opening up shop.

On Monday, the board of commissioners in the city of Palmetto voted unanimously for the ban, joining the likes of Bradenton, Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria.

City officials said the lack of regulation at the local level was a concern.

According to Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, she felt the city was being given an "all or nothing" option when it came to opening dispensaries.

"It's premature what the [state] legislature has done," said Mayor Bryant. "You really had no home rule, no control about where they were. They would be everywhere in our commercial corridor."

One exception is that dispensaries cannot be located within 500 feet of a school.

"That wouldn't necessarily include a pre-school, or a daycare or something like that. We just had a lot of concerns. We felt it was premature," said Mayor Bryant.

Last year, 71 percent of Floridians voted in favor of medical marijuana. The number of people seeking a recommendation for the drug has steadily increased, according to Dr. Vincenzo Perrone, who heads Vincenzo Perrone, MD in Bradenton.

"Over the past three or four months, there's definitely been an increase in patients," said Dr. Perrone, who added that he typically writes about half a dozen medical marijuana recommendations per week.

Perrone said before the Trulieve facility opened in September on 14th Street West in Bradenton, some of patients had to travel to get the drug.

"A lot of patients had no alternative but to go out of town as far as Tampa, St Pete or Clearwater," said Perrone.

According to Rita Chamberlain, the associate director of Drug Free Manatee, having a physical dispensary is not a necessity.

"24/7 access is available online for any patient who has a recommendation, and you can get home delivery. If you're disabled, you don't have to go out. All you need is that doctor recommendation," said Chamberlain.

She said officials with Drug Free Manatee are concerned that too many dispensaries in the area will desensitize people to the idea that marijuana is still an illegal drug.

"Once people perceive a particular drug or a particular behavior to be the norm, then it becomes normalized, more people do it and at a far younger age. We see it with alcohol. We see it with opioids. We see it with nicotine," said Chamberlain.

Mayor Bryant said she's expecting more changes to come down from the state level as dispensaries open across the state, so she supports commissioners' decision not being hasty to allow dispensaries to open in Palmetto.

"Rather than mislead people for the future of where these locations would be the most appropriate for the community, we wanted to wait on the legislature to hopefully come back with some better legislation, more legislation that gave home rule back to where it belongs and back to the municipalities," said Mayor Bryant.

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