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Will zoning regulations weed out medical marijuana dispensaries?

Florida counties and cities face difficult, interesting choices on medical marijuana. Early this summer, state legislators put in place regulations that give local officials a take-it-or-leave-it option regarding marijuana.

Cities and counties can either ban medical marijuana dispensaries or they can allow unlimited numbers of medical marijuana dispensaries. There appears to be no middle ground. This Hobson's choice has some officials pondering new zoning regulations for pharmacies; regulations that would restrict where dispensaries would be able to open their doors.

At present, a news report points out, most Florida counties and cities don't have special zoning rules for pharmacies, but instead lump them in with other retail businesses. Where no targeted dispensary zoning exists or is created, an entrepreneur who wants to open a medical cannabis dispensary might be, depending on circumstances, required to seek rezoning or a variance.

On its website, Brevard County says this about the variance process: "A variance is a waiver from the requirements of the Zoning Code and the Sign code, where specific enforcement would result in unnecessary hardship."

No one is certain of what will happen here in Brevard. We read recently that county commissioners were ready to treat dispensaries as pharmacies in zoning matters (both would fall into the general commercial class), but then decided to impose a nearly year-long moratorium on cannabis dispensaries.

Entrepreneurs interested in opening dispensaries or other businesses in our area often turn to attorneys experienced in land use and zoning matters for help in navigating a complex system.

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