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The future of medical marijuana dispensaries in Collier County continues to look bleak for residents looking to use their medical cards within their home county. Collier County Planning Commission voiced its disfavor Thursday for amending the land development code to allow these facilities.

Under Florida statute, counties have the option to ban dispensaries completely or work to determine criteria for where dispensing facilities are allowed. Once dispensaries are approved, the county cannot regulate the number of facilities.

In 2018, the county didn’t approve the land development code that would allow dispensaries in the same zoning where there are pharmacies due to lack of a required vote. Earlier this year, commissioners instructed to have the code reevaluated.

The public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting had a large majority of speakers in opposition of dispensaries in the county including Steven Brooder, chief executive officer at St. Matthew’s House, which operates the only long-term residential addiction recovery program in the county.

“We estimate that as many as 80% of the men and women that enter our programs have used marijuana before they moved on to alcohol or other harder substances,” Brooder said. “And at this time, we intake about 20 men and women every month into our recovery program and there’s a waitlist today of 56.”

Many Lee County dispensaries offer delivery of product to homes in Collier, becoming a major point of argument for residents who are against having brick-and-mortar stores in the county.

“If we keep the ban on dispensaries here in Collier County, anybody that needs it is able to get it, they can drive to Bonita Beach Road and I believe everybody in this room has probably driven to Bonita Beach Road for some purpose,” planning commissioner Karl Fry said. “And if it’s important enough for us to go to a restaurant up there we might be willing to drive up there if we really need medical marijuana. Even if we aren’t willing to drive up there, we can order it and have it delivered to our home, so nobody is really hurt by this other than in the terms of convenience.”

There are 28 dispensaries in Lee County, 10 of which are in Bonita Springs to keep up with the demand from Collier residents. The only dispensary in Collier County is MUV Marijuana Dispensary and Delivery in Marco Island which opened in May.

The board expressed a desire to reach out to local governments and health departments in states where marijuana is legal for recreational use.

“I can’t believe we haven’t talked to the people in Colorado and Washington and California that are responsible in their health departments and look at the progression because, obviously, that’s really what we’re worried about is the progression,” planning commissioner Paul Shea said.

Although the planning commission denied the amendment unanimously 7-0, it is ultimately the Board of County Commissioners’ decision whether to pass the allowance of dispensaries. It will appear on the board’s agenda at a later date.

“I just think it is confusing, and I hope that as this dialogue continues and for the county commission that there can be more expert testimony in terms of facts from an expert, similar to how we rely on experts when we get into land use matters,” Fry said. “I feel like there’s been a little bit of a lack of that in this.”

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