City of Sarasota passes temporary ban on marijuana dispensaries

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Medical marijuana is legal in Florida but where a dispensary will open is still in limbo.

“The city’s position was to have them in the office area, which is away from neighborhoods, away from school areas and day cares and use extreme caution,” says Tom Barwin, Sarasota city manager.

But Barwin says that’s no longer an option in Sarasota.  

A bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott says local governments have to allow the same zoning laws for dispensaries as any traditional pharmacy, meaning one can pop up near you.

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Barwin says, “Police are concerned that, as a cash business, will this create a need for more patrols around dispensaries (since) they’re subject to robberies.”

On Monday, Sarasota City commissioners unanimously passed a temporary ban on dispensaries after the city’s nine-month-long moratorium on dispensaries expires July 17.

“Even if there’s a temporary ban, folks here will still have access. I understand deliveries are allowed,” explains Barwin.

A majority -- 70 percent -- of Sarasota voters, including Chris Curtis, voted in favor of medical marijuana.

“If a pharmacy can be somewhere, then so can medical marijuana dispensaries," Curtis said. "It’s considered medical, so it should be treated the same way.”

Curtis says his brother suffered from severe back pain and had to get marijuana illegally until his death.

“He did get it illegally (but it) made a difference to his quality of life,” says Curtis.

City leaders say there are still many details to work out on the state level by October and locally.

Barwin says, “One of the issues to be discussed tonight are we will be subject to litigation if opt out even if it is a temporary basis.”

City leaders also worry about the traffic dispensaries would bring if allowed to open where pharmacies open. Barwin says they’d like to see more coordination between communities.