By: Saraana Jamraj
Tamarac residents hoping to fill their medical marijuana prescriptions closer to home are one step closer after the city commission voted to allow dispensaries.
The movement to make medical marijuana available to residents was led by Commissioner Julie Fishman, who researched the cause while following the challenges it has faced in the Florida Legislature.
Three years ago, when medical marijuana was legalized across the state, several cities, including Tamarac, chose to pass a moratorium on the facilities, waiting to see the effects of medical marijuana implementation.
“We didn’t have any examples of how the implementation of the new law would work. Cities were given a choice of either allowing the dispensaries as they would pharmacies or banning them completely. At that time, I made it known that while I was going along with the majority, I would be bringing this issue back up,” said Commissioner Fishman.
In 2018, former Tamarac Mayor Harry Dressler and the city commission unanimously passed a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in Tamarac.
Dressler was vehemently opposed to them, calling them a gigantic scam, and was factually misinformed about the differences between CBD and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
“If you’re looking for medical marijuana, you can get that stuff without a prescription on the Internet,” Dressler once said at a commission meeting.
However, he did not seek reelection in 2018, and in his absence, the new commission revisited the issue.
They were not alone. Other cities, like Coral Springs, overturned their moratoriums this year.
Commissioner Fishman said she took this issue very seriously and took it upon herself to do more research.
“The fastest-growing demographic using medical marijuana is people 65 and older. I have taken the time to educate myself on this issue by taking a tour of facilities from growing to dispensing and have been impressed with the professionalism I have seen,” she said.
As the summer ended, the commission began moving closer to a vote.
To assist them with the decision, they had the help of Community Development Director Maxine Calloway and Assistant City Attorney Brian Sherman, who prepared a report for them at their workshop on September 9.
In the report, they discussed the results of a survey the city had put out In March, tasking residents to partake in a survey about medical marijuana. An overwhelming 89.3 percent of those who responded were in favor of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in Tamarac.
As a result, Calloway recommended the mayor and commission adopt an ordinance allowing the facilities, given that they followed the same zoning requirements and standards which pharmacies do. The requirements include restrictions on the distance they can exist from schools and operating hours.
One motivation to pass the ordinance had also been the critical role medical marijuana plays in patients’ lives. It can be used to treat a range of conditions, such as chronic pain, certain cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Beyond deciding it was a worthy cause, Commissioner Fishman also felt it necessary to champion because the voters had made their support clear as well.
“I felt it was important to act on the will of the people and allow dispensaries in Tamarac.”
At the meeting, they did just that, with Mayor Michelle Gomez, Vice Mayor Debra Placko, Commissioner Fishman, and Commissioner Marlon Bolton voting unanimously to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
The ordinance goes into effect immediately.
“I am pleased with the vote, even though I know there are still questions that will come up,” said Commissioner Fishman.
There are no known planned dispensaries in Tamarac at the current moment, but now, the door is open for them.
“The feedback I have received has been positive.”
- Saraana Selene Jamraj is a writer, activist, and a student pursuing her master's degree in mass communications at Florida International University.
She's currently the communications manager at The Salt Box in Parkland and has lived in Coral Springs since 2004.