Medical Marijuana, Mooring Field Approved

Gulfport City Council members now allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city’s commercial districts as the result of a unanimous vote on Tuesday, January 16.

The dispensaries “must meet state statute and local zoning requirements,” said City Attorney Andrew Salzman.

Those requirements include being located in a commercial district, being treated like a pharmacy and being located 500 feet away from the property boundary line of a school like Gulfport Elementary, he said.

“I just want people to be aware that pretty much any section of Gulfport that has a business on it is a potential site,” said Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke. “That includes Shore Boulevard, Beach Boulevard, 49th Street South and Gulfport Boulevard South.”

There are numerous potential locations but “some commercial areas would be impacted such as Smokin J’s because they share a property line with Gulfport Elementary,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly.

“The [location] limits of a dispensary is controlled by the distance from schools,” said Salzman

“Which is one block,” said Liedtke.

Both Councilperson Yolanda Roman and O’Reilly noted that the city’s recreation center and a preschool near 49th Street South do not qualify as schools based on the state statute.

“You could have an existing commercial business make a request” but to date, “no one has come forward” with a plan to locate a dispensary in Gulfport, said Salzman.

“Time will tell what state attorneys general will do with the Department of Justice regarding marijuana in general be it medical or recreational,” said Roman.

In November 2016, 71 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 2 to the state constitution allowing the use of low THC marijuana by patients with medical conditions like cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But there is a key legal point clouding the issue and it’s causing delays in some state- and local-level Medical Marijuana Treatment Center approvals.

Currently, marijuana use is illegal at the federal level as it is technically considered a Schedule 1 drug thanks to the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. According to an August 11, 2016 Newsweek story, “The Justice Department reserves its right to challenge state laws if public health or safety problems emerge or if the states fail to enact strict regulations to control marijuana use and sale.”

Mooring Field is Approved

The council awarded a bid received on December 21, 2017 and directed city staff to enter into a contractual agreement with American Underwater Contractors of Tequesta, Florida, to begin the process of creating a mooring field.

According to a city memorandum, the mooring field will “ideally address the issues of unregulated anchoring in a city managed and controlled [area] of Boca Ciega Bay, which is associated with damage to sea grass colonies from dragging anchor, degradation of water quality due to improper trash and sewage disposal, and [incidents] of derelict vessels.”

Currently, there is one partially submerged vessel and “the removal process is underway,” said O’Reilly.

During the past three weeks, the city’s marine patrol has been in the bay for 11-1/2 hours documenting 18 vessels as part of a workflow to preemptively address potentially derelict vessels, he said.

“I know I’m in the minority on this, but I look specifically at the sewer pump stations that weren’t able to pump sewage for seven days during the power outages of Hurricane Irma,” said Liedtke. “So, rather than buy a generator, we’re going to be spending more money on places to park another boat.”

Mayor Sam Henderson noted the city’s marina is currently near capacity.

“We’ve been talking about this since before I got here and that’s 2009,” said Henderson.

Referring to Liedtke, Henderson said, “I’ve been against it several times because I thought we had greater priorities” but with the permitting and other resources that the city has into it, “to me, this is the time to do it.”

Liedtke cast the one dissenting vote on the resolution with Henderson, Roman and council members Christine Brown and Michael Fridovich approving the measure.

“At your next meeting, a first reading of the ordinance that creates” the mooring field will be presented, said O’Reilly.

If approved, the 17.5-acre sailboat mooring field would be located in the waters that face Williams Pier, the Casino and beach areas. Out of a total of 25 slips, 22 would be reserved for transient use, which would serve an estimated 62 boat visitors annually.

According to city documentation, “The project will serve as an economic catalyst for revitalization in Gulfport.”

In Other Action

The first reading of an ordinance that would streamline the process to obtain a local designation pertaining to historical preservation was unanimously approved.

Members of the Gulfport Historical Society, representing residents who want to create a less arduous path to local historical designation, approached city staff, said O’Reilly.

“The society wants to expand the services they provide,” said O’Reilly. “Requests for historical preservation would need to be made by property owners.”

Local historical designation happens infrequently, said O’Reilly.

According to the city’s website and O’Reilly, buildings that are currently designated as local historical landmarks are the Casino, Scout Hall and the Peninsula Inn.

On August 8, 2014, the United States Department of Interior National Park Service also entered the Casino into the National Register of Historic Places.

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