BCC approves marijuana dispensary next to Christian Home Academy

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 4/28/21

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A medical marijuana dispensary was approved within 500 feet of the private Christian Home Academy on College Drive in Orange Park.

Approval for a marijuana dispensary …

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BCC approves marijuana dispensary next to Christian Home Academy

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – A medical marijuana dispensary was approved within 500 feet of the private Christian Home Academy on College Drive in Orange Park.

Approval for a marijuana dispensary normally wouldn’t be presented to the Board of County Commissioners, but it did Tuesday, April 27. That’s because there’s a county statute that states dispensaries can’t be built within 500 feet of a school. Josh Cockrell, one of the people behind the dispensary, convinced council. The body voted, 3-2, with Wayne Bolla, whose district the dispensary will be in, and Mike Cella dissenting.

“Governments should not get in between doctors and their patients’ care,” Cockrell said. “Governments should make it easier to open businesses. The distance from the door to the school is more than 600 feet, but it’s based on parcels.”

He argued the statute, which bases its distance parameter around parcels meaning a dispensary’s parcel can’t be within 500 feet of a school’s parcel, should take into account more detailed measurements. While the potential dispensary’s parcel location to the school is within 500 feet, going to the front door of the dispensary is 600 feet.

Cockrell said they reached out to Christian Home Academy to discuss this and their thoughts on it, but they never heard back.

Commissioner Betsy Condon said she'd prefer a medical marijuana shop over multiple vape shops as the latter pose a much bigger threat to children and teenagers due to the ease of access. She argued that despite possible public perception, medical marijuana dispensaries are more sterile and “less cool” than one might think. They’re also extremely protective and run more like a doctor’s office than something you’d see at a recreational marijuana dispensary in Colorado, where marijuana in all forms is legal.

“I just don’t think we should be in the business of picking and choosing where businesses go,” Condon said. “The control around these dispensary facilities...they’re more like doctor offices and pharmacies than they are a store you can just go into. They’re stark, clean facilities.”

Condon also mentioned the proposal the company behind the dispensary is opening a 5,000-square-foot shop in Putnam County, saying “that’s how secure this company is” in what they do. She talked about how these dispensaries can often bring a lot of jobs to an area.

She specifically referenced Gadsden County where a dispensary manufacturing center created more than 1,500 jobs.

“They were one of the poorest counties in the state and that company came in and provided 1,600 jobs for that community that otherwise might have not had much hope,” she said, citing what medical marijuana can do for a local economy in terms of jobs.

“To the applicant’s point, if this were measured a little differently, they wouldn’t even have to come to us.”

Many on the council agreed with Condon’s point and nobody was against the construction of the dispensary. Bolla and Cella voted to disapprove allowing the building of it within 500 feet of a school due to precedent, however. Cella argued he felt the need to stick to the statute.

“There isn’t another space available within the 500 feet,” Cockrell said, explaining that his team looked elsewhere, too. “The statute states [that it should be followed unless] you, the body, determines that the location promotes the public health, safety and general welfare for the community.”

Cockrell argued this dispensary does just that as its products are sold to those in need.

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