Coral Springs Police Chief Instills Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt Over Medical Marijuana

Products from a medical marijuana dispensary in Deerfield Beach. Smokable marijuana flower is not currently an approved route of use under existing Florida law. Photo by Jason Perlow.

By: Sharon Aron Baron and Jason Perlow

Homelessness. DUI’s. Lower property values, and people leaving the city. These were some of the reasons given at the city commission workshop on Wednesday why medical marijuana dispensaries should not be allowed in the City of Coral Springs.

Comparing medical marijuana to full-blown legalization, Coral Springs Police Chief Clyde Parry believed the city could become the next Colorado – where homeless people would move in and smoke pot in front of the dispensaries.

“You’ll see a lot of people leaving, that’s what’s going to happen,” said Commissioner Larry Vignola. “Property values will lower.”

Also, comparing medical marijuana dispensaries to pill mills, the presentation painted an ugly, dangerous, picture of medical marijuana with the commissioners receiving no alternative presentation about the benefits from residents who use medical marijuana, or from someone with expertise in the area.

In 2016, Amendment 2 passed allowing marijuana for residents with debilitating medical conditions with over 71 percent of all voters in Florida.  In January 2018, Vice-Mayor Lou Cimaglia, along with commissioners Joy Carter and Larry Vignola voted against medical marijuana dispensaries in Coral Springs. The late Mayor Skip Campbell and commissioner Dan Daley voted Yes for the opening of dispensaries in the city.

Coral Springs Commissioners Carter, Simmons and Vignola listening to a presentation by Chief Clyde Parry.

In the state of Florida, as implemented in Amendment 2 by the state legislature, patients seeking a medical marijuana recommendation by a licensed physician must have a documented qualifying medical condition in order to qualify for a card issued by the Department of Health Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU). These debilitating conditions are severe and include cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and medical conditions of the same class or which are comparable.

The recommendation for medical marijuana must be renewed every 45 days, dosages renewed every 70 days, an in-person follow-up with the recommending physician must be scheduled every seven months, and the card issued by the state of Florida must be renewed every year.

Typical costs incurred by the patient for the required doctor’s paperwork and the card are around $400 per year not including the cost of the medication itself.

In addition to comprehensive medical documentation of these conditions in order to qualify, a patient must typically be willing to abandon or reduce their usage of narcotics and other prescription medications in order to facilitate that recommendation filed with the OMMU, as they are not providing adequate relief of their condition.

Under the current implementation of Amendment 2, medical marijuana can be used through either oral, topical, rectal, or inhalation routes — the latter of which can only be done using special concentrate-filled cartridges, a vaporizer device or special disposable e-cigarettes filled with oil concentrate, which do not emit smoke when used, only water vapor.

Smokable marijuana flower is not currently an approved route of use under existing Florida law.

Recently elected Governor Ron DeSantis has recently asked the state legislature to legalize smokable medical marijuana by mid-March. Failing this, he has stated that he reserves the right to exercise his executive privilege to legalize it himself by dropping any or all related lawsuits previously filed under the administration of Rick Scott to prevent its use.

Medical marijuana is often viewed as a treatment of last resort when all other medications have failed.

In the presentation that Chief Parry gave, he listed reasons why a medical marijuana dispensary would be dangerous for the city stating that since California became the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana, their Police Chiefs Associations determined that the dispensaries attracted ancillary crimes, increased recreational use in public, other illegal drugs were sold at the dispensing facility, there were loitering concerns, and that it may contribute to the existence of secondary markets for street-level distribution of marijuana.

In Florida, a medical marijuana user cannot enter a secure Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC) dispensary facility without the state-issued identification card and child patients cannot enter or obtain medication without a designated caregiver, which also must have their own cards issued.

Additionally, medical marijuana cardholders are expressly prohibited from selling their medications to other cardholders or to non-cardholders, under penalty of losing their medical privileges, severe fines and serving jail time.

Commissioner Joshua Simmons argued that the burgeoning cannabis industry in Florida wanted this to work.

“They have deemed there is a lot of profit that can be made from it and they really have no interest in allowing their business to be used for nefarious purposes,” he said.

Vignola was concerned about people waving signs in front of a medical marijuana card recommendation clinic to attract people to it as he saw on a recent visit to Miami.

A medical marijuana card recommendation clinic is not an MMTC, cannot dispense medication, and there are already such physicians in Coral Springs that specialize in this service.

Simmons reminded the commission that any dispensary would also have to abide by the codes so they wouldn’t look like a dilapidated building, ghetto or run-down.

City ordinances are applicable to all businesses and retail storefronts operating within Coral Springs, regardless of their purpose. Compliance with these ordinances includes signage and any type of advertising. Coral Springs city ordinances applying to retail businesses are among the strictest in Broward County and the entire State of Florida.

Chief Parry said, “I think you would agree with me that there are going to be people that are going to push the limit and abuse the law like they do with every law that’s ever been written in the United States.”

“People are going to do that regardless, and I understand that,” said Simmons. “But the biggest thing for me is that 72 percent of people voted for it.”

Vignola believed the city didn’t need dispensaries because a lot of places already offered free same-day delivery.

According to our extensive overview of medical marijuana dispensaries, it could take 2 to 4 days depending on when you order it, their schedule, where they have to drive it from – typically one of several secure distribution centers in different parts of the state, not a dispensary — and product availability.

Currently, MMTCs are experiencing difficulty at keeping certain products in stock and shortages are common, requiring patients to work with multiple MMTCs in order to reliably secure medication. Additionally, free delivery is not universal among Florida MMTCs and typically, a minimum order amount is required in order to qualify.

Vignola said medical marijuana dispensaries would increase crime and the homeless population.

Simmons said, “You cannot directly attribute medical marijuana dispensaries to homeless…”

Vignola continued, “Increase in marijuana use among juveniles, increase in marijuana procession in school….and it’s very easy to overlook this, but I have a friend who was shot at Stoneman Douglas who was on the third floor trying to get into a bathroom that was locked because other areas allow marijuana and those vape pens and the school locked those bathrooms on the first and third floors because people can buy them from other places and ship them through the mail, and from what I understand that school has made eight arrests from those vape pens and pot. If you want it, you can get it delivered right to your door.”

Vignola also believed there would be an increase in traffic fatalities and didn’t want people driving in from Tamarac, Margate or Parkland and getting smashed before they went home and did it responsibly.

A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health looked at fatal crash data from 2009 to 2015 in Washington and Colorado, both marijuana-legal states, and found no significant link between marijuana use and fatal crashes.

“This is a family community, and like a pandora’s box, you can’t get rid of them once they are here,” he said.

“Think about what we’re going to bring into the City of Coral Springs,” said Vignola. “My family moved here because it was a safe city, because of the parks that we had and the schools that we had.”

City Manager Michael Goodrum suggested more public engagement on the subject.  The commission will not be voting on the item until a new mayor is elected after March.