The city of Port St. Joe joined the growing number of cities and counties statewide in instituting a moratorium on the medical marijuana industry for at least nine months.

The city of Port St. Joe joined the growing number of cities and counties statewide in instituting a moratorium on the medical marijuana industry for at least nine months.

That should, Commissioner Rex Buzzett said, allow sufficient time for the state to establish rules and regulations for the prescribing and dispensing of medical marijuana in Florida.

But, Buzzett added, commissioners, even if they desired, could do little to stop the train that has been rumbling for several years to legalize marijuana for medical uses.

Medical marijuana was now legal, both in the Florida Constitution, through a recent voter-approved referendum, and now in state statute.

“We can’t keep medical marijuana out of Port St. Joe nor do I want to,” Buzzett said, in motioning for approval of a moratorium.

The Florida Department of Health is charged by state lawmakers with writing and implementing rules on the medical marijuana industry, given nine months after the November general election to rollout the regulations.

Legalization, with no rules currently in place, could lead to a variety of problems, Buzzett said.

“We would be foolish to ignore that fact that a lot could happen in Port St. Joe before the regulations are in place that would be a detriment to the city,” Buzzett said.

“(Right now) we don’t know what to do. (With a moratorium) we could be ready.”

There a host of questions, Buzzett said: would special zoning be required; the nature of a cash business invites a criminal element into the equation, how to regulate that?

Commissioner David Ashbrook noted that based on population Gulf County could expect a dispensary, but where would it be located, in the unincorporated areas of the county, Wewahitchka, Port St. Joe?

The establishing of a dispensary would be first-come, first-served; how would that process be handled, he also wondered.

“A lot of things could happen and we need to be proactive,” Buzzett said.

Ashbrook queried why, given the timeline for the FDOH regulations, Buzzett did not want a full-year moratorium.

In legal circles, Buzzett answered, moratoriums arer frowned upon given the perception they are a way for local governments to circumvent laws.

“That is not the intent,” Buzzett said.

In part, the city is taking its cue from the Florida League of Cities which is encouraging municipalities across the state to put the issue on hold until FDOH rules.

“The Florida League of Cities has been very proactive,” Buzzett said.

Cities, and counties, across the state, and the region, have approved similar moratoriums.

Actions in Franklin County came while at least two companies were examining the county for establishing a grow operation or dispensary.

But, the bottom line was the industry was heading to the county, and the state, and as Mayor Bo Patterson added, an overwhelming number of county voters, 7 in 10, supported the constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.

Commissioners approved Buzzett’s motion 5-0.

License litigation

Prior to the next regular meeting on Jan. 17 commissioners will hold a closed executive session to provide guidance to new attorney Clint McCahill on answering a lawsuit brought over a funeral home license.

Such out-of-the-public meetings are allowed to discuss litigation strategies.

The business license at bar was awarded to Whatley Funeral Home on 10th Street late last year and set off litigation from a neighboring couple.

The couple contend commissioners did not demonstrate the funeral home operation would not have a negative impact on neighboring properties values.

The couple argued commissioners disregarded the city’s land development regulations, which mandate commissioners prove there will be no negative impact to property values.

The couple seeks to overturn the decision to issue the business. A circuit court judge has given the city until Jan. 31 to show cause why he should not grant the request.

McCahill, the first city attorney in five decades not from the firm of Rish, Gibson and Scholz, said he needed direction from commissioners on responding to the lawsuit.

McCahill said he was getting up to speed on the case and hoped to soon discuss the matter with the attorney for the city’s co-defendant, the owner of the funeral home.

He said the executive session and direction from commissioners would allow him two weeks to draft and file the response in circuit court.

‘Think big’

Buzzett urged commissioners to “think big” in 2017 in order to address major projects and keep those projects on the radar.

Among those items, Buzzett said he would like for the board to establish a funding mechanism for road paving projects so the city did have to wait for county road bonds every five or 10 years.

Commissioners should continue working with the non-profit renovating the Port Theatre to bring more foot traffic downtown as well as address downtown parking issues and look to consider the new North Port St. Joe master plan as part of the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Plan master plan.

And the Centennial Building, long a pet project, “is falling around us every day” and is in need of significant investment.

Answers may not be quick, Buzzett noted, but unless commissioners keep them on the table answers might never come.

“We need to think big, to raise the bar,” Buzzett said. “We need to keep thinking big and keeping those projects on the radar.”