Boca Raton’s City Council is, once again, about to demonstrate its propensity to impose, through government power, an arbitrary public policy without adequate information or debate. At the City Council meeting on October 10, Ph.D. Candidate Eric Sevell took the public microphone to present a learned presentation and power point in opposition of the first reading of what is expected to be an indefinite ban on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries within Boca Raton city limits. Attached here is Mr. Sevell’s power point presentation in its entirety, accompanied with his article written for BocaWatch offering factual evidence and commentary intended to encourage the City Council to decline taking such a legislation prohibition.
On October 24th, the City Council seems prepared to insert its legislative will on to the medical professional’s relationship with a patient. This is another example of bad goverence. Any legal commodity’s availability to the public should be determined by free market principles and not by the ill-conceived political winds thought to be prevailing by elected officials. In this case, free market principles and the political winds of the community are both blowing in the same direction. Medical Marijuana Dispensaries should not be banned without substantial proofs of harm to the general community. No such proofs have been uncovered or offered to the City Council to justify such a city-wide ban.
Al Zucaro, Publisher
Despite offering no justification, the Boca Raton City Council has taken steps to effectively ban medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits indefinitely. This would force residents, who are ostensibly dealing with debilitating illness or disability, to travel further distances to obtain their medicine. As a Boca resident and social scientist, this is unacceptable to me, and many of the other 76% of Boca residents who voted in favor of Amendment 2, legalizing medical marijuana in Florida (1). Below is a brief summary of how we got here, and an explication of the presentations I have given to the city’s planning and zoning board (P&Z) and city council on this issue.
City Council and P&Z. Since 2014, the city has repeatedly instituted one-year moratoriums on dispensaries, and the current ordinance goes further by attempting to ban them indefinitely. The city has repeatedly claimed for three years that it needs time to do research. Three years later, there is no evidence on public record that suggests the city ever attempted to research the issue. Additionally, and notably, city staff has refused to state on public record who initiated these ordinances to begin with. As a red herring, the city has also repeatedly insisted that the ban is not problematic because, as most adamantly repeated by Councilman Weinroth, “Patients are not being denied access to medical marijuana as a result of this course of action,” an argument that immediately suffers from issues of face validity and was referred to by one local resident as “disturbing” (2, 3). Notably, on August 17th, 2017 the Boca Raton P&Z Board voted 4-2 against the current ordinance to ban dispensaries. The board’s concerns included a lack of clarity on the city’s regulatory capabilities, definitional issues (e.g., what counts as a “dispensary”), potential exclusions for hospitals or nursing homes, and being forced into an all-or-none situation. During the first public hearing on the current ordinance, the city council hardly acknowledged the significance of the P&Z board’s decision.
Negative Secondary Effects. Although the city has never actually raised the issue itself, one thing we should actually be concerned about is the potential for “Negative Secondary Effects.” In short, these are undesirable consequences, such as an increase in crime and decrease in property values, produced by certain types of businesses. Social scientists often undertake studies to assess the validity of these claims, and although the data is only beginning to emerge alongside the industry, early studies suggest medical marijuana dispensaries are neither associated with nor cause these negative effects. These studies, which I presented to both the P&Z board and the city council, suggest further that any issues that might occur would likely be mitigated by basic security measures such as camera systems and guards. For example, a study done by Kepple and Friesthler (2012) in Sacramento, California found no association between the density of medical marijuana dispensaries and violent or property crime rates (4). Despite the existence of such studies, the city has made no attempt to find them, and my submissions, to my knowledge, have been completely ignored.
Other Concerns. First, to suggest that medical marijuana does not improve the quality of life for those who suffer from illness or disability is to willfully ignore the voices of countless individuals. This is an objective fact, and an important one given Boca’s significant elderly population. It is also worth restating that it is simply cruel to make it more difficult for our most vulnerable and marginalized to obtain their medicine based on no justification whatsoever. Boca’s most vulnerable need access. Second, by forcing these businesses elsewhere, Boca loses out on the potential for creating jobs and revenue. Although there is immense wealth in Boca, institutions like schools and charities are still desperately short on resources. Third, threats to children, family, and schools are commonly invoked as a red herring to inspire irrational fear. There is absolutely no body of empirical evidence that suggests the legalization and implementation of medical marijuana causes (or is even associated with) harm to children or key institutions like family and education. Quite frankly, as someone who was born and raised in this city, I can attest that our high schools and colleges already function as de facto dispensaries, and have for decades. To be clear, I say this not to suggest our schools have a problem, but that the presence of marijuana has not stopped these places from becoming world class institutions that send incredibly prepared students to some of the most elite schools and jobs in the country.
Finally, I conclude by suggesting we ask ourselves what kind of city we want to be. Do we want to be the kind of city whose knee jerk reaction is to ban everything that is new and different, or do we want to be the kind of city that is willing to take on challenging issues when the welfare of our most vulnerable is at stake? I strongly disagree with the city’s suggestion that this is just a land use or a zoning issue and that it acceptable to make people go further for their medicine without any justification. The stakes are much higher. The final city council vote on this issue is currently scheduled for Oct. 24th. I hope to see more Boca residents there.
CLICK BELOW FOR POWERPOINT PRESENTATION:
(1) Sun Sentinel Editorial Board. August, 2017. “Voters’ Say on Medical Marijuana’s Gone up in Smoke.” Sun-Sentinel. http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/editorials/fl-op-editorial-pot-shops-20170823-story.html
(2) Weinroth, Robert. August, 2017. “With Medical Marijuana, Caution is Necessary.” Sun-Sentinel. http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-viewpoint-weinroth-marijuana-20170828-story.html
(3) Schellenberg, Howard. August, 2017. “Councilman’s View on Marijuana Dispensaries Disturbing.” Sun-Sentinel. http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/letters/fl-letter-weinroth-marijuana-viewpoint-response-20170831-story.html
(4) Kepple, Nancy and Bridget Freisthler. 2012. “Exploring the Ecological Association Between Crime and Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 3(4):523-30.