Sarasota County is Considering Two Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers

Sarasota County is Considering Two Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers

While the cities of Sarasota and Venice have both banned medical marijuana treatment centers for now, Sarasota County has not. The Sarasota County planning staff is considering applications from both Trulieve and AltMed to build treatment centers outside of city limits. If approved, this would be the first dispensary that AltMed will have established in Florida. AltMed recently developed an inhaler that allows for measured dosing, which should add an interesting dynamic to Florida’s medical marijuana industry.  If you would like to learn more about Florida’s medical marijuana program, please click here.

Two medical marijuana firms have applied to open dispensaries in unincorporated Sarasota County.

Sarasota-based AltMed has proposed a dispensary at Fruitville and Richardson roads and major distributor Trulieve has proposed one at Jacaranda Boulevard and Center Road.

Both sites fall just outside the city limits of Sarasota and Venice, respectively — the municipalities have banned such establishments, for now — and are the first applications made under the county’s special exception process for reviewing dispensaries since voters overwhelmingly approved expanding medical marijuana under Amendment 2 last year.

Both companies applied just a few days apart this month and both held initial meetings with county planning staff last week, setting into a motion a months-long review process that will include a series of public hearings.

As local rules continue to shift, the applications will be an interesting test of the “misconceptions” about medical marijuana and a barometer for how it is established for the first time in Sarasota County, said Tom Polk, a longtime county planner who has led the county’s research into medical marijuana planning and zoning rules for several years.

“They’re pushing a medical product that is, packaging and all that, wouldn’t be what you saw if you walked into a place in Denver with neon signs and velvet rugs on the wall or whatever,” he said. “They’re putting a lot of time and effort into the display and how it’s presented; it’s very professional. I think when people see that, they might have a different impression.”

The proposal for a facility on Fruitville Road would be AltMed’s first dispensary in Florida.

The local company was formed three years ago and is headquartered in Sarasota County, but it has been operating in Arizona ahead of medical marijuana’s legalization in Florida. In August, AltMed announced it was partnering to develop and sell the drug here with Plants of Ruskin, which already received one of the tightly restricted state licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana.

The proposed Venice location for Trulieve is another addition to a booming roster of open and planned dispensaries the company has announced across the state. Last month the company opened a Bradenton location — its 10th dispensary and the only one between St. Petersburg and Miami, for now.

But the company has been delivering to many more parts of the state since late last year, including the greater Venice area, spokeswoman Kim Rivers said. That made Venice a natural spot for another physical dispensary location, she said.

“We have been delivering to the Venice area for quite some time … and (Venice) has been a very busy area for us in terms of patient need and physician activity,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said Tuesday. “So based on the fact that we do lots of deliveries to that area, we decided to move forward with a physical location. It makes sense for us to be in that location and we want to give patients the option to come into a store to receive one-on-one feedback and education.”

The special exception review for both locations is likely to take at least four to five months, Polk said.

Both companies will be required to host public neighborhood workshops with neighbors at each location before submitting formal applications for staff review. Then each application will require the approval of both the Planning Commission and County Commission, providing more opportunities for public comment.

Sarasota County’s rules about medical marijuana are unique in the area.

Originally approved in 2014, they were crafted to mirror the county’s rules regarding pain management clinics and predate the Legislature’s new rules this summer requiring dispensaries to be treated the same way as typical pharmacies in terms of zoning rules and locations. Because the county’s rules were adopted well before the new standard, they are allowed to remain in place, though the state law is expected to continue to evolve, Polk said.

Local municipalities, however, have balked at the new state rule and opted instead to ban dispensaries for now in Bradenton, Longboat Key, Palmetto, Sarasota and Venice.

North Port is currently the only area city that allows dispensaries and one, Suterra Holdings Inc., is working on plans to open within city limits. Manatee County also has approved rules permitting dispensaries or cultivating and processing in certain unincorporated areas, but not within 500 feet of a public or private school.

AltMed and Trulieve officials already have worked with Sarasota County zoning officials about their rules, but unique issues like security at the dispensaries and traffic will be factors in the review process, Polks said.

“They do want to be good neighbors,” he said of both companies. “It is an introduction of a whole new concept to a lot of people, but it’s in their best interest, particularly the way the state set it up right now, you’re not going to see a lot of the Wild West stories I’ve told you through the years.”

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