Approval of a nine-month moratorium on medical marijuana by Port St. Joe commissioners two days prior was the hottest topic in last Thursday’s annual meeting of the Gulf County legislative delegation.

Approval of a nine-month moratorium on medical marijuana by Port St. Joe commissioners two days prior was the hottest topic in last Thursday’s annual meeting of the Gulf County legislative delegation.

Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello) and State Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) paid a visit to hear concerns from the public and elected officials in preparation for the March 7 start of the 2017 regular session of the Florida Legislature.

There were a host of issues raised, from road funding to the homeless population, but the issue that brought the most debate was medical marijuana.

More specifically, the approval of a local moratorium while waiting for the Florida Department of Health to draft and implement rules and regulations.

Port St. Joe commissioners approved the moratorium, following a suggestion from the Florida League of Cities that municipalities act after passage of legislation and a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.

A spokeswoman for the League of Cities said the organization had communicated that it was “incumbent on cities to address the issue sooner rather than later.”

The League of Cities communicated that cities should explore options, though the League made no specific recommendations, only that cities should act soon.

Port St. Joe resident Brenda Pollard said told Beshears and Montford she objected to local officials “dragging their feet on medical marijuana.”

“Kids are getting it,” she continued. “For those of us in pain, or dealing (with other medical issues), I’d like to see you push that along.”

Pollard said she was a grandmother raised all her life to believe that marijuana was bad, illegal, not to be touched.

But the benefits of medical marijuana, or extract products, for those who suffer debilitating pain or in the case of her friend, glaucoma, have turned her thinking around.

“I know people who are in pain … this is something that works,” Pollard said. “It’s a plant and it will do some good for a lot of people.”

Montford said the rollout of regulations was a “process” that the state had to see play out, but Pollard noted that dispensaries are already opening, without problems, in Leon County.

That is not to mention the growing number of states that have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana and have open dispensaries.

“Take a look at where it is being done and use that” as a template, Pollard suggested.

County Commissioner Freddie Whitfield said while he was “glad” there are going to be people who would benefit from medical marijuana legalization, he wondered about “what will follow.”

“I think the people who planned this were way out in front of the politicians,” Whitfield said.

He hoped that legalization was not a gateway to other issues with drugs such as prescription medications.

The Florida Sheriff’s Association expressed consistent dissent to the move to legalize medical marijuana, Sheriff Mike Harrison said, but said seeing the will of the voters, the association was forced to re-evaluate.

“We realize some pople deal with immense pain and problems and this can help,” Harrison said. “But let’s be careful going forward.”

Beshears, however, said if local governments were waiting for the state to act, “you are backing up.”

A moratorium, he added, seemed a knee-jerk reaction and, he added, was counter to the mandate provided by voters, who both locally and statewide overwhelmingly supported legalizing medical marijuana.

In Gulf County nearly 7 of 10 voters approved the constitutional amendment.

“Be leaders, be proactive,” Beshears said to local officials. “Find a way to bring relief to these people and know you are not the only ones in the boat.”

Beach restoration

Dr. Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County, thanked Beshears and Montford for their support for beach restoration and urged additional assistance during the upcoming legislative session.

As currently scoped, the restoration project planned for this year is estimated to cost roughly $14 million.

That is $2 million more than is already pledged to the project, and the hope is to secure the money along with project permitting in the next two to three months.

“We are still looking for a little bit more money,” Hardman said.

The hope is either a legislative appropriation to close the gap or funding from the Florida Department of Transportation as it tries to protect State 30E, the only road on and off St. Joseph Peninsula.

Lacking additional funding, the project would have to be prioritized to address the most vulnerable areas within the six-mile project.

Beshears noted that the local “skin in the game’ was crucial.

Property owners within the project area voted by referendum to tax themselves to provide $4 million.

In addition to other sources, the county pledged first-year RESTORE funds, though those funds, the spending of which must be approved by the U.S. Treasury, could be the most problematic to secure.

The county has submitted its multi-year spending plan to the Treasury and is awaiting approval. After approval the county must write project-specific grant applications to receive the funds.

All permits should be in hand next month, said Warren Yeager, the county’s RESTORE coordinator, and the goal is to finish the project before year’s end.

But much of the timeline hinges on the RESTORE process and a federal government in transition.