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Coral Gables Considers Banning Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

More than seven months after Florida voters overwhelmingly supported an amendment legalizing medical marijuana, Gov. Rick Scott finally signed off on the law late last month. But critics have pounced on the law's shortcomings. Megalawyer John Morgan, who sponsored the amendment, is now suing the state because it doesn't allow patients to smoke their medicine.

There's another problem with the language approved by state lawmakers, though: Individual cities and counties can still ban marijuana dispensaries for whatever reason they want. At a city commission meeting this morning at 9, Coral Gables plans to do just that, despite the fact that voter data shows the City Beautiful's residents voted for legal access to medical pot by a 7-3 margin.

Two-term Commissioner Vince Lago is sponsoring the ordinance, which he says is meant to "protect Coral Gables values and the quality of life of our residents." If his plan passes, the Gables would be the first city in Miami-Dade to outright ban pot dispensaries, though Miami Beach has approved several moratoriums already.

"My biggest fear is that this could spiral out of control," Lago says.

Because the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule I narcotic, the 29 states that have legalized pot for medicinal purposes now find themselves at odds with the feds. Employers can still fire their workers for failing drug tests, and people who live in public housing can still be evicted if a neighbor files a complaint. Marijuana businesses have also been affected; many have been forced to use cash because most banks won't accept their accounts.

The discrepancy has also created confusion within the Gables government, where the commission passed a law in 2014 that says the city has the right to withhold medical marijuana permits and prohibit dispensaries as long as the drug remains illegal under federal law. The new ordinance would simply double down on that premise.

"At the end of the day, we're hanging our hat on the federal law," Lago says. "I want to abide by those federal standards."

Even though election data shows that 71 percent of Gables voters cast ballots in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, the same figure as Floridians as a whole, Lago claims residents don't actually want pot in their neighborhood.

"I've spoken to many residents who are concerned," he says. "Predominantly, they oppose it."

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Asked if a ban would burden residents with debilitating diseases that could be treated with medical marijuana, he says none of them has approached him about it.

"I have yet to encounter one resident that's come to me and told me they would like to have dispensaries located within the city of Coral Gables," he says. "I have an issue really understanding what would be the benefit of allowing that in the city."

Under the city's own code, the ban cannot go into effect until the ordinance is read at least one more time during a second city commission meeting. Lago says he's still willing to hear what residents think.

"I welcome their feedback," he says. "We want to have a thorough discussion on the future of marijuana dispensaries."

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