Orlando City Council commits $120,000 to new marijuana testing facility despite commissioner’s outcry

The Orlando City Council narrowly approved $120,000 in funds for property improvements at a new business that will offer marijuana testing services, despite one commissioner’s passionate plea against the measure.

During Monday’s meeting of the Orlando City Council, commissioners voted 4 to 3 in favor of apportioning $120,000 from the Downtown Commercial and Residential Building Improvement Program for improvements to the property located at 805 W. Central Boulevard.

According to city records, the property owner, Robert E. Clark, II Family Trust, estimates renovations for the property will cost approximately $265,130.

In August, the Downtown Commercial and Residential Building Improvement Grant Review Committee made a recommendation of approval for funding assistance of up to $120,000 toward the proposed improvements.

During Monday’s meeting, council members engaged in a brief discussion of the funds, with one commissioner taking the opportunity to make an impassioned plea.

“Every day, we’re locking up and people are killing one another,” said commissioner Regina Hill during the meeting.

Hill expressed her opposition to the measure and indicated that she did not believe the city should approve funds to a business whose primary focus is the cultivation, distribution, or delivery of marijuana.

According to city staff, the business will offer “testing” services for marijuana, but will not vend products.

Commissioner Patty Sheehan expressed her support for the measure, suggesting that the police department had been directed to lower its arrests of persons for minor marijuana drug possession and that the business was providing a service to the community.

“That’s why this council took action with the police department to make sure that we aren’t prosecuting those minor offenses now because it did disproportionately impact the African American community,” said commissioner Sheehan. She indicated that marijuana had helped many people, including her “own family members,” and suggested that marijuana was a safe alternative to the “opioid epidemic.”

“I’ve seen marijuana help so many people that I’m close to. It’s our responsibility to find places to site these facilities. I understand your concerns, the problem that I have is that the applicant went through the process, a fair process. It is a legal business, and I don’t think that it is going to be a deleterious use, and I have had dispensaries located in my district,” said Sheehan.

“Well keep them there,” said Hill in response to Sheehan, before dismissing her comments altogether.

After additional comments from commissioners, Hill made another emotional, tear-filled plea to the council to vote against the measure. During her comments, Mayor Buddy Dyer attempted to intervene.

“You don’t have a drug arrest, I do,” said Hill in response to Dyer’s attempt.

“For marijuana, it cut my career and I had to struggle. I had struggle to where I’m at right now because of drugs in Paramore. And now, you guys say ‘it’s legal.’ Well it’s not legal: What I had to go through, and what every other girl and boy have to go through over there to overcome. But now you’re going to bring it to our neighborhood. Keep it in Thornton Park. Take it to Lake Nona. It’s just not right, that we’re supporting it, no matter what’s legal,” said Hill.

She concluded her remarks by asking the council to use its “conscience” to deny the measure.

Commissioner Bakari Burns agreed with Hill’s sentiments, saying the city’s funds should not be used to retrofit a business without a clear idea of its intended purpose. In particular, Burns expressed concern that the business may be permitted to expand from testing to dispensing and delivering marijuana products in the future.

Commissioner Jim Gray did not agree with Hill’s position and elaborated on his point.

“Let’s not be confused. There are drugs in poor neighborhoods, in rich neighborhoods. There are drugs in white neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, latino neighborhoods. Drugs are all over, I’m sorry for your personal issues, but as we’ve said, we have rules, we have guidelines and we have to treat everybody the same,” said Gray.

As Gray tried to continue his remarks, he was cut off by Hill.

“I don’t care to hear nothing you got to say, sir,” said Hill.

Commissioner Gray then made the motion to approve the measure, which passed with support from commissioners Sheehan and Stuart, as well as the mayor.

Along with Bakari and Hill, commissioner Tony Ortiz voted to deny the measure.

In 2016, Orange County voters passed Amendment 2, legalizing the distribution of medical marijuana in the state of Florida, with 73% of the vote.

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