Divided Wellington Council OKs Medical Marijuana Facilities

The Wellington Village Council.

The Wellington Village Council passed the preliminary reading of an ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensing facilities in the village at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 15.

The approval involved land development regulations relating to retail uses; defining medical marijuana dispensing facilities and medical marijuana treatment centers; and regulating the size and location of pharmacies and medical marijuana facilities.

Village staff updated its zoning code for pharmacies in the village, recommending approval to allow the two different types of medical marijuana facilities in the village.

These state-regulated facilities have been brought before every municipality in the state since the constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana facilities passed in November 2016.

Mayor Anne Gerwig wanted further clarifications regarding the distinction between a typical pharmacy that the village already has code written for and these new types of facilities that would be treated like a pharmacy if authorized through council approval.

“The medical marijuana dispensing will not be done at any pharmacy. This is two separate items. Even though pharmacies are going to be regulated the same as a medical marijuana dispensing location, they will not be dispensing medical marijuana at the pharmacy,” Gerwig said, asking staff for confirmation.

Planning, Zoning & Building Director Bob Basehart confirmed Gerwig’s assessment of the state mandate for either banning the use for the new types of medical marijuana facilities or allowing them to enter the village like any pharmacy would.

Councilman Michael Napoleone expressed frustration for the position the village has to respond from regarding the state statutes for medical marijuana.

“We didn’t anticipate the legislature doing what they did, which was tying our hands, either banning it or regulating them like a pharmacy and allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to be anywhere pharmacies are,” Napoleone said. “I think we discussed that our residents voted overwhelmingly… to approve the use of medical marijuana.”

Gerwig empathized with what the use of medical marijuana can do for people who have serious illnesses, such as cancer, sharing personally sympathies she has had for her own loved ones, understanding a positive role medical marijuana can play in treating such patients.

“I don’t think that banning a dispensary in our community is doing that because it has been guaranteed by these dispensaries and the production of this product that they would have a robust delivery system for this product,” Gerwig said. “If it is not allowed, even if the county changes that standard and decides not to allow it before any are constructed or approved, they still will have a robust delivery system. With that delivery system, anyone in Wellington would be able to get that product.”

Vice Mayor John McGovern believes that through staff’s rewriting of the code for all pharmacies in the village, allowing the medical marijuana facilities into the village is possible.

“We have gone to great lengths, I believe, through this ordinance to rewrite our zoning code in a way that allows us to zone these like pharmacies to maintain the character and nature of our community and comply with the expressed will of our residents on this issue,” McGovern said.

Councilman Michael Drahos said he thought that McGovern’s explanation was a fair viewpoint, but he felt differently about the way votes for allowing medical marijuana in the state may differ from what the council is now presented with.

“I wonder, is that a mandate from our residents to make sure that we provide it in Wellington, or is it simply a conceptual mandate that, ‘Hey, we’re not generally opposed to the idea of medical marijuana, we may just not want to have it in our own back yard.’ Certainly, that issue wouldn’t be unique to many others in the past that we’ve had to face, where people like the idea; they just don’t necessarily want it in their back yard,” Drahos said.

Basehart said that in Palm Beach County, there have been six municipalities that have banned medical marijuana dispensaries, and there have been three that have voted to allow it, including Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and unincorporated Palm Beach County.

Councilwoman Tanya Siskind looked at it from the standpoint of voters saying yes to medical marijuana.

“I think that the state regulations are extensive if you go through… 48 pages of regulations and requirements that need to be met. I feel comfortable with that,” Siskind said. “I do go back to the fact that our residents overwhelmingly voted for medical marijuana.”

According to village staff, since Wellington is almost built out, the only place that a medical marijuana facility is likely to go is along the State Road 7 corridor, or in the event an existing pharmacy went out of business.

Napoleone made a motion to pass the ordinance with the added rewritten zoning code for pharmacies. The motion passed 3-2 with Gerwig and Drahos opposed.