Pot, sober houses and Hyatt notes

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Weeding out dispensaries

Even if Florida voters legalize medical marijuana on Nov. 4, weed entrepreneurs almost certainly will have to wait before setting up in Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach.

Last week, the Boynton Beach City Commission approved a one-year moratorium on marijuana dispensaries, as they would be called if the amendment gets at least 60 percent of the vote. The Boca Raton City Council is expected to approve a similar moratorium at tonight’s meeting, and Delray Beach has the same proposal scheduled for its Oct. 21 city commission agenda.

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie said Monday that the moratorium would “give staff time to evaluate” regulations for such facilities and “give the community time to react.” Haynie’s priority would be to limit marijuana dispensaries to commercial and medical districts, but cities will face many issues if the amendment passes.

Indeed, the language of Amendment 2 is broad in many ways. While it allows the use of marijuana for any “debilitating medical condition,” the amendment also sanctions marijuana for “other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.” Call that gateway language, vastly expanding the potential market for legal marijuana without specifically legalizing marijuana. The larger the market, the more cities will have to deal with medical marijuana start-ups.

If the amendment passes, the Florida Department of Health will have to write regulations on who can sell medical marijuana. You can understand the cities’ caution when you read in the amendment that the department would have to produce these regulations no later than six months after the Nov. 4 vote. A yearlong moratorium would give the cities roughly another six months to respond. If cities want to be “proactive,” as Haynie put it, they must do so before allowing any facilities. With everything from pill mills to puppy mills, cities can’t shut down existing businesses just because of what they sell.

A key issue for the cities is how much—if at all—they would be able to control the number of “Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers” within their borders. If the Department of Health signs off, presumably a city would have to find room for the facility or face a lawsuit.

Another complicating factor is that the Legislature this year passed Senate Bill 1030, allowing “non-euphoric” marijuana for certain medical conditions. This marijuana contains cannabidiol, which eases pain but not tetrahydrocannabinol, which gives users a high. (The legislative analysis of the bill gets so detailed as to break down how much of a toke constitutes a hit – 1/20th of a gram.

Unlike Amendment 2, SB 1030—named the “Charlotte’s Web” law, after a Colorado girl whom non-euphoric marijuana has helped—limits the use of this form of medical marijuana to patients “suffering from a physical medical condition, or treatment for a medical condition, that chronically produces symptoms of seizure and persistent muscle spasms.” Physicians also must have treated a patient for at least six months. Despite those limitations, Florida is planning to license five production/distribution facilities statewide, and they are expected to be lucrative. So imagine how cities could be flooded if the much more expansive Amendment 2 passes.

Haynie adds another intriguing wrinkle. Boca Raton has no land zoned for agricultural use, though Haynie says homeowners have tried to plant two or three banana trees and claim to be farmers.

Boca Raton, though, does have an abandoned golf course in the north-end Hidden Valley neighborhood. What if someone wanted to buy the 55-acre property and use it to grow medical marijuana?

Since the product will be sold through these dispensaries— Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw anticipates “marijuana mills”—and not through pharmacies, Haynie probably is right that people will “try to find loopholes.” Especially when so many people could make so much money from such a generous definition of “medical” marijuana.

Sobering thoughts

As Haynie and her Delray Beach counterpart, Cary Glickstein, acknowledge, their caution about medical marijuana stems in part from their cities’ experiences with sober houses.

Boca Raton and especially Delray Beach have seen operators of sober houses set up large operations in residential neighborhoods. Sober houses, which don’t provide treatment and are basically halfway houses for recovering substance abusers, are unregulated. Neither Boca nor Delray knows exactly how many sober houses operate within its borders.

Some sober houses are good neighbors and treat their clients professionally. Others, though, “churn” patients, putting them on the street if they fail a drug test and failing to properly monitor their activities. That can lead to more crime and can degrade neighborhoods. “The bad ones,” Glickstein says, “far outnumber the good ones.”

So officials in Boca, Delray and other cities with similar problems perked up last month when the FBI raided a sober house operation in West Palm Beach that had been buying up units at a condo complex. The raid could help lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel persuade Congress to amend the Fair Housing and Americans With Disabilities acts and allow regulation of these facilities. When Boca Raton tried, the city lost in federal court.

Glickstein expects some help from the Florida Legislature next year, but only the federal government can give cities the ability to separate those good owners from the lousy ones. Sober houses came with claims of being good for the community. Given their record, you can see why cities don’t accept the supposed benefits of medical marijuana at face value.

Watch this space

Last May, the state attorney’s office charged former Delray Beach commissioners Angeleta Gray and Alberta McCarthy with violating the county’s ethics laws in a way that amounted to criminal conspiracy.

Last December, Gray—who four months later lost her bid for reelection—voted to award a $50,000 contract to the company for which McCarthy worked. The deal would have benefited McCarthy. Gray did not disclose, however, that before the vote McCarthy had helped her pay off a business loan.

We’ve heard nothing about the case since then. Today, however, the two sides will hold a status conference. I will find out if there have been any developments.

Hyatt Place

One last thought on approval of Hyatt Place Boca:

When city council members blessed the hotel, at Federal Highway and East Palmetto Park Road, they gushed about the look. More than one characterized the project as emblematic of what Boca wants for a signature look that still adheres to the classic Boca style.

What happens, then, when the developer of the proposed New Mizner on the Green project comes before the council? Elad National Properties wants to build four condo towers on Mizner Boulevard, not far from where Hyatt Place Boca will go up. Not only would the towers be much taller than the rules allow, the design would be dramatically and deliberately different from the Addison Mizner style. Think futuristic.

Daniel Libeskind, who designed the towers and is the designer of, among other things, the new World Trade Center in New York City, is speaking tonight at an event for the Boca Raton Museum of Art. There is no date for when the council might consider Libeskind’s Boca towers.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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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.