Estero is a small city north of Naples on the gulf coast. The small town already banned medical marijuana treatment centers once and that ban ends in December. Members of the city council and Zoning Board are debating whether to extend the ban further. They are concerned about inappropriate use of medical marijuana but also recognize that voters wanted medical cannabis. Residents in Estero would either have to drive to Bradenton, where the closest dispensary is located, or pay a rather expensive delivery charge. Do you think that when medical marijuana is legal in the state of Florida, city council members should ban treatment centers over concerns patients will use medical marijuana inappropriately?
The Estero Planning and Zoning Board on Tuesday rejected a proposed village-wide ban of medical marijuana dispensaries.
The appointed board’s non-binding vote serves as a recommendation for the Village Council, which will make the final decision.
The draft ordinance would prevent the dispensing or cultivation of medical marijuana within Estero’s boundaries. The Village Council is expected to review the ordinance over two public hearings in November.
At Tuesday’s meeting, members of the village’s Planning and Zoning Board said the ban was too restrictive and could negatively impact residents in Estero who might need medical marijuana to treat certain diseases or conditions.
“This is medical marijuana. We are not talking about recreational use,” said board member Robert King. “We have a number of people who gain or benefit from this medically. I don’t see why we have to force them to drive out to Bradenton to buy their medications.”
Board Chairman Scotty Wood said he thought the draft ordinance was “not ready for prime time.”
“The intent is to avoid inappropriate use of medical marijuana and that is a laudable goal. On the other hand, there are individuals in need of medical marijuana,” Wood said. “In my opinion, we need to look at this ordinance from both perspectives and make some amendment to reflect them.”
Three members of the public spoke on the draft ordinance Tuesday.
Estero resident Ben Bachrach asked board members to show compassion for people in the village who need medical marijuana for their health.
“The overwhelming majority of Floridians voted in favor of allowing medical marijuana, and I don’t think we need to put any more restrictions on it for those who need to get it,” Bachrach said.
Nick Garulay, with My Florida Green, an online platform to assist patients in obtaining medical marijuana recommendations, said he would guess that around 1,000 people between Bonita Springs and Estero have obtained a medical marijuana card.
“We all need to unite for patients in need. I ask you to really have some compassion here,” Garulay said.
Estero resident Bill Carr said he thought the draft ordinance was appropriate because Estero’s population does not meet the ratio of 67,222 residents per cannabis dispensary, as recommended in a report by the Marijuana Policy Group, a Denver-based consulting firm.
According to the memo, that “optimal ratio” is based on laws similar to Florida’s Amendment 2, the constitutional change approved by voters last November that legalized medical marijuana for people who have specific diseases or conditions.
“I believe our council is exercising caution in favor of providing for the public health, safety and welfare of our residents,” Carr said.
Under the draft ordinance, the village would not accept or approve requests for development orders, building permits or other applications that would lead to the creation of medical marijuana facilities in Estero.
Last December, Estero adopted a one-year moratorium on cannabis dispensaries, which is still in effect throughout the village.
At the time, Estero said the moratorium would to give it time to see how the Florida Legislature implemented Amendment 2.
The current moratorium on cannabis dispensaries in Estero expires on Dec. 7.