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Nipping dispensaries in the bud

August 23, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Amendment 2 passed almost a year ago by a majority of Florida voters, approving the use of medical marijuana in the state.

An average of 75 percent of Fort Myers Beach voters sided with the majority, but the Fort Myers Beach Town Council voted to direct staff to draft an ordinance which would prohibit a dispensary from opening in the beach.

The town joined most local municipalities earlier this year by passing a temporary moratorium while it waited for the final legislation to be worked out at the state level. But at the Aug. 14 meeting, three of five wanted to see a permanent ban.

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Iona Health and Wellness is located just off of McGregor Boulevard and has been operating as a cannabis clinic for about 7 months.

Council Member Joanne Shamp said she didn't want the kind of clientele that a dispensary would attract hanging around on the island.

That response brought sharp criticism from Anthony Leonard, a beach resident and co-owner of a cannabis clinic. The clinic does not dispense prescriptions.

"To stop people while trying to get prescription, when my daughters have to see drunk people stumbling around and the heroine and opioid epidemic on the beach, I can't believe they can look down on a dispensary," he said.

Fact Box

Facebook friends

We asked followers on Facebook how they felt about a dispensary on the beach. Here are what a few had to say, whether the town should accept a dispensary or pass a ban.

Kitty Hooper: Interesting. I can understand both sides, pro and against for having them. If I, confidently, knew that the 75% that voted for it, actually, knew what they were voting for I would say that's you answer. Unfortunately, the way it was worded I'm not sure. Maybe instead of a moratorium put a limit on the number.

Lisa Galuska: I approve!!! It has helped me with my lupus and stopped remission of cancer for many dear friends of mine!!!

Tim Donegan: Don't do that, just keep letting the heroin and booze flow

Jeff Berz Keep the beach clean!

Mark Hourigan: 75%, that's a pretty strong approval percentage...didn't go to the town council meeting so I have no idea the reason for the moratorium, is it that they're worried about image or shady characters coming to the beach? Well, let me enlighten you on the presently accepted beach characters they we've had for many years and no one has a problem with them I've also experienced this a number of years ago when my kids played little league on the beach and one season we called the sheriff numerous times because they were passed out on the picnic tables. Now I have no problem with them and this behavior seems to be accepted, so why are we hesitant in allowing medical marijuana in our community.

Dispensaries are the storefronts that actually give out the prescriptions.

But it's not exactly a easy process that allows a medical marijuana user to get that dose.

The Iona Cannabis Clinic is the closest facility to the beach at which someone can get authorized for a medical marijuana prescription. The clinic is also part of the Iona Health and Wellness Center, owned by Dr. Gregory Sonn, D.O., of Fort Myers and Leonard of Fort Myers Beach.

Before becoming the area's first cannabis clinic, Iona Health and Wellness specialized in hormonal treatments.

Before someone can be prescribed with medicinal marijuana, the patient is first evaluated by Sonn. They have to meet at least one of several conditions, including ALS, PTSD and multiple sclerosis.

Then, they have to register with the state of Florida and get a medical marijuana photo ID card. They are put into a database of registered marijuana users, Sonn said, both as a monitoring mechanism and as an aide to the ongoing research into the use of the drug.

Sonn prescribes a particular dosage; any change to the prescription is noted on the patient's file in the state database. Then the patient gets the prescription either filled at a dispensary or the dispensary can have the prescription delivered to the person's door.

"(A dispensary) is not a legal drug-dealing location," Leonard said.

Part of the reason for the database of users is to collect data for research purposes.

Medical marijuana users aren't smoking weed as a recreational user might. The only allowable forms are ingestible oils or an oil used in a vaporizer.

It's not the cheapest medical solution either; clinics charge anywhere from $175 to $425 for the first visit; the ID is $75; and the actual prescription itself is costly as well. Sonn often prescribes micro-doses, two to three small doses a day. For a 5-milligram micro-dose twice a day, it would cost about $175 for a 50-day supply, he estimated.

In addition, many clinics charge a monthly fee.

"There is a cost involved," Sonn said.

But unlike other prescription drugs, such as oxycontin or opiates, marijuana won't kill you, he added.

Leonard has a personal connection to the product; his wife, Amy, was Sonn's very first patient, Leonard said.

Amy Leonard suffers from multiple sclerosis. There's no medicine that cures it, and medications she took to control it only made her feel worse, her husband said. But when she started on a medical marijuana program, she felt better.

"Nothing had been effective before, but I can see the changes in her," he said. "She sleeps through the night, her vision and balance have improved, it's been a godsend."

Sonn estimates that 60 percent of patients he gets are 55 to 80 years old, and most of them say they have never consumed or only rarely consumed marijuana before, he said.

"I tell people, don't worry about the stigma," he said. "Minute by minute it's being town down."

Sonn said.

Council Member Anita Cereceda was originally against pursing a permanent ban, but said she's been thinking about it and will vote in support of a ban when the ordinance comes back.

"Though there may not be anything inappropriate about medical marijuana, from a zoning perspective, there's just no place for it in our town nor would I want to make it fit," she said.

Cereceda said she has to go off-island for her medical needs, and thinks other people do the same. She also doesn't think a dispensary would be attracted to the beach due to the location and size constraints.

Sonn agreed, although he said passing the ban would only exclude the beach from viable business.

"I think it's a big mistake, but I don't think a dispensary would find it attractive on Fort Myers Beach. There's too much traffic," he said.



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