Commission reorganizes, takes up medical marijuana

Debra W. Buehn
Posted 11/29/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Board of County Commissioners will be led during the next year by a board member who returned not long ago from an overseas deployment fighting the Global War on Terror, is …

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Commission reorganizes, takes up medical marijuana

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Board of County Commissioners will be led during the next year by a board member who returned not long ago from an overseas deployment fighting the Global War on Terror, is a teacher and may just be the youngest chairman of any county commission in Florida.

The BCC chose Gavin Rollins as its chairman for the next 12 months at its regular meeting Tuesday, Nov. 28. The board reorganizes every year at the last meeting in November. Commissioner Mike Cella was named vice chairman.

“I appreciate the honor of serving and hope we can continue the great teamwork that we’ve done this far,” Rollins said after being named chair.

Rollins was elected a county commissioner in 2014. He then served nearly a year with the Florida National Guard in the Horn of Africa, returning to his spot on the BCC at its March 14 meeting this year. He is a captain in the Guard and an intelligence officer.

He also teaches World and U.S. history in Exceptional Student Education at Oakleaf High School.

Rollins, 31, has generally been acknowledged as the youngest county commissioner in the state at this time, which would also make him the youngest chairman. But such statistics are not kept by the Florida Association of Counties or any other organization, said a representative of the FAC Wednesday morning.

Nevertheless, Rollins said he has yet to meet any current commissioner younger than him, or find one younger through his research.

Regardless of his age, Rollins has several goals he would like to see the BCC pursue while he is chairman. Probably top among them is communication.

While thanking Wayne Bolla, who had served as BCC chairman for the past year, for his service, Rollins mentioned how he thought the commission had built on a strong past in the last few years by especially using workshops “where we all brainstormed,” and where Bolla kept things going with additional workshops and focus on individual subjects.

“Now we’ve got a priority list of things to do and I’d like to just continue in that effort and specifically focus on communication,” Rollins said. “I think the county staff and the county are doing a lot of good things but unfortunately sometimes people aren’t getting that message or always realize what the county is doing and so, in that vein, I would love for feedback from you guys.”

Rollins said he would like to have BCC members bring back one short-term goal that perhaps can be accomplished in the next year and a long-term goal that can be talked about and worked on “down the road.” He mentioned the idea of a communications advisory committee where each BCC member would appoint two people to serve so that there would be a wide group of people who could give the BCC recommendations on ways to “better communicate to the public.”

In other action, the board struggled again with medical marijuana treatment center dispensing facilities. In January of this year, the BCC voted a one-year moratorium into place to let the state set up its own regulations that would help guide governing bodies into how to deal with the facilities. State voters passed what is known as Amendment 2 in November 2016, allowing the legalization of medical marijuana. Clay County was with the overwhelming number of state voters who voted for the amendment, with 70.6 percent of county voters approving it.

The problem for the BCC now is dealing with the county’s land development regulations and where – if anywhere – to allow the dispensaries before the moratorium expires on Jan. 24.

Ed Lehman, planning director for the county, said in a memo that according to the state, the county can put a ban on all such treatment centers; provide for medical marijuana treatment centers in locations where pharmacies are currently zoned or revise the zoning regulations to “provide new or revised locations for pharmacies and medical marijuana treatment centers.”

Orange Park is currently the only governmental entity in the county to have voted to allow medical marijuana treatment centers to open their doors within its boundaries. Clay County deals with the unincorporated areas.

The issue has been a struggle for the commission all along, although Commissioner Gayward Hendry said Tuesday he doesn’t want the county’s zoning department to “rush out and start identifying spots that facilities could be permitted to dispense this.”

“I believe that those that need medical marijuana in the near future will have the opportunity to get it. We’ve got Orange Park coming on line, we have Gainesville, we have mail order (home delivery),” he said, adding he would support the idea of a ban “at least for now if we could set up on a 1-2-3 year review.”

“If the need’s out there, we’ll hear it and we can just review it from year to year as the needs progress,” Hendry said.

Bolla said he was “on the fence,” but added repeatedly he was against all-out bans.

“I have a hard time with all-out bans,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s not like we’re preventing people from getting marijuana,” he said, noting the other nearby places it is available.

Outgoing Vice Chairman Diane Hutchings, said she supports the idea of medical marijuana and people’s access to it, but has trouble with locations for dispensaries.

“When I think about the vote, the 70 percent, they weren’t voting for a location. They were voting for patient access and I freely support that myself,” she said.

Hutchings said she was worried about the coming of recreational marijuana in less than five years as some are projecting, as well as locations for the dispensaries.

“Our dilemma is where’s the right location,” she said, adding she would like to see more of how others are handling that before making a decision. Her idea would be for a ban that would sunset in 24 months, similar to Hendry’s idea.

Rollins, who said he believed residents here had access to the medical marijuana they might need, said he would agree with such a proposal. It would give the BCC time to see how things were working in other areas and what problems might come up.

“To me, this is an issue of where things go and how it’s rolled out, not should we implement it or not. Obviously, the state is implementing it,” Rollins said, adding he understood the need some people have for medical marijuana.

Cella, who said he had researched the subject in a variety of ways, including speaking with at least one doctor who is qualified to dispense, said it does not seem to be very widespread here, which could help the county. The doctor he spoke to had about 2,000 patients and only about 15-20 dealt with medical marijuana, Cella said.

“It may be a moot point in terms of what way we go because some of these growers may decide we’re not the big fish and they’re going to go north of us to Duval County where there’s a greater density of people and more opportunity,” Cella said.

In the end, the staff said it would take all the BCC had talked about and come back with a couple of options at the Dec. 12 meeting. That should include a ban with a sunset, and land use regulations that would include the medical marijuana treatment centers and dispensaries with conditional use.

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