Thursday, October 21, 2021

Boca Marijuana Debate Continues, Election Fundraising Update, and More

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer has proposed a compromise under which the city might allow medical marijuana dispensaries to open.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the city council held the first of two hearings on the ordinance. A vote would come after the second hearing on Feb. 11. On Tuesday, council members heard a staff presentation on the ordinance and took public comment.

Monica Mayotte and Andy Thomson, the council’s newest members, have been the most supportive of allowing the dispensaries to open. Jeremy Rodgers has been the most opposed. Singer and Councilman Andrea O’Rourke have been less committal.

City administrators oppose ending the city’s ban on dispensaries because the Legislature gave local governments very little flexibility when Tallahassee adopted rules to implement the 2016 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. Cities and counties must allow dispensaries wherever pharmacies operate or prohibit them.

Boca Raton has about two dozen pharmacies, and staffers worry that dispensaries could proliferate. Even the proposed ordinance seems designed to keep out the dispensaries, whatever the council decides. The ordinance requires dispensaries to be at least 5,000 square feet. As dispensary operators told the council Tuesday, the usual size is between 1,500 and 2,500 square feet.

Thomson proposed that the minimum be 2,500 square feet. Then Singer addressed the issue of how many dispensaries might open.

The city, Singer said, could limit the number of new pharmacies and dispensaries. Boca Raton thus would comply with the state law to treat them the same way and, in effect, set a cap.

In an email, Singer said that his approach “would balance the zoning concern of the state law with the desire to provide access to patients who need it. The cap would treat pharmacies and dispensaries the same way, consistent with law, and could be increased in the future.”

boca marijuana

City Attorney Diana Frieser cautioned that if the city allowed the dispensaries, the Legislature might pass more restrictive statewide rules. In that event, she said, dispensaries might sue the city, claiming that they had lost property rights.

Such a state law, however, would preempt any local regulations. It’s hard to imagine any judge finding Boca Raton liable. The Legislature also could make new rules apply only to new dispensaries.

The obvious resistance by Frieser and others likely stems from what Thomson calls the city’s “lack of control.” In typical fashion, the Legislature – which refused to legalize medical marijuana on its own – tried to hamstring what the voters approved over Tallahassee’s objections.

For all the debate about potential problems, Mayotte returns to the idea that a large majority of voters in Boca Raton supported the amendment and deserve to have the council carry out their wishes. It’s true that patients can fill marijuana prescriptions at dispensaries in Deerfield Beach or west of the city, but why should they have to?

Correctly or not, Delray Beach, because of the city’s opioid epidemic, isn’t talking about ending its dispensary ban. So for the time being, Boca Raton’s neighbor to the north won’t be an option.

Mayotte said she would seek more information before Feb. 11 about whether dispensaries attract crime. The evidence to date is that they do not, even though they must operate as cash businesses. Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, federally chartered banks won’t allow dispensaries to open accounts.

One middle-aged speaker Tuesday predicted that dispensary patients would obtain their marijuana and sell it on the street for a profit. Another, younger speaker pointed out that marijuana is cheaper on the street.

Some in Florida are pushing for the state to legalize recreational marijuana. There’s a legitimate debate about the health risks of new, more powerful marijuana and how much revenue legalization might mean.

There is almost no debate, however, about the benefits of medical marijuana. We’ll see in a couple of weeks whether Singer and his colleagues can balance all the competing aspects of this issue.

Election fundraising update

The two candidates who want to represent West Boca, West Delray and West Boynton on the Palm Beach County Commission are spending big on themselves.

Former state senator Maria Sachs has loaned her District 5 campaign $80,000. Through December, Sachs had raised about $132,000 overall. Former Palm Beach County School Board member Karen Bill has loaned herself $55,000 of the $95,000 in her campaign account.

Self-financing is hardly new at any level. The most extreme example is Michael Bloomberg, who is using a chunk of his estimated $60 billion fortune to run for president. Rick Scott spent $64 million on his U.S. Senate campaign in 2018 and roughly the same amount when he ran for governor the first time.

But the trend is showing up more and more in local races, obviously with proportional amounts of spending. Sachs is tapping the resources of the Boca Raton law firm of Sachs Sax Caplan. Her husband, Peter Sachs, founded the firm. Sachs also has received $1,000 from Boca Raton’s megaphilanthropist, Christine Lynn.

Brill’s donors include Susan Bucher, the county’s former elections supervisor whom Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended. Bucher then resigned rather than seek reinstatement. She gave $1,000. The political association for the county’s Realtors also gave Brill $2,000.

Sachs and Brill and running in the Democratic primary. District 5 is heavily Democratic, and the primary essentially is the general election. No Republican has announced for the seat.

Incumbent Mary Lou Berger is term-limited. Whoever succeeds her will be the most influential commissioner when it comes to the county’s Agricultural Reserve Area. All 20,000 acres are within District 5. The reserve’s farm supply many popular restaurants in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, and the reserve has been one of the few places to have escaped South Florida sprawl.

Beach restoration

I wrote Tuesday that in March the Army Corps of Engineers will start a beach restoration – dredging – project for the north end of Boca Raton. I should have mentioned that the Corps will start a similar project next month for the south end of Delray Beach. As with the Delray Beach project, it will repair erosion damage from Hurricane Irma.

Neal de Jesus gets a promotion

neal de jesus
Neal de Jesus during his tenure as fire chief

Delray Beach’s Neal de Jesus will become president of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association. His term begins in August. The group represents roughly 5,000 firefighters statewide. Some of de Jesus’ work will involve lobbying in Tallahassee on behalf of his members.

And assists with Gretsas’ transition

De Jesus just returned to the firehouse after serving a second shift as Delray Beach’s interim city manager. George Gretsas became the permanent manager on Jan. 6, but de Jesus still isn’t quite finished.

To help the transition, Gretsas told department heads to keep working with de Jesus or Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher until current projects were complete. De Jesus thus continued to supervise departments while Gretsas familiarized himself with the staff.

As of Wednesday, de Jesus still was supervising the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, the Police Department and, naturally, the Fire Department. He envisions being just fire chief again soon.

BH3 Extension

I had written that BH3 had asked Delray Beach for more time to revise its plan for the nine acres east of the Fairfield Inn. The deadline had been Jan. 17, and now the community redevelopment agency has granted the company another two months. The company is reworking the location of the grocery store and making design changes based on community input.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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