Christie: Lake Worth says medical pot stores, schools can live together in harmony

A Curaleaf representative opens the door and invites customers in for the very first time to Lake Worth’s second medical marijuana dispensary on Monday.
(Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s settled then.

Lake Worth officials have made their choice as the city’s medical marijuana dispensary opened its doors — albeit quietly — Monday morning. No fan fair. No hoopla. No comment.

A bit of a contrast to the opening of Knox Medical in a former bank branch at 1 S. Dixie Highway in Lake Worth, Palm Beach County’s first medical marijuana dispensary, back in November. Comparatively, that facility was welcomed with open arms by everyone. Then again, it’s located in downtown Lake Worth directly across the street from city hall.

RELATED: Marijuana dispensaries scout for locations in Palm Beach County

The new Curaleaf store is located directly across the street — about 180 feet away — from a school. The Academy for Positive Learning is the city’s only A-rated public school; a K-8, 135-student charter school. The school of predominantly low-income students has an impressive rating of 9 out of 10 on GreatSchools.org.

Curaleaf, formerly known as Modern Health Concepts, was supposed to open as early as last fall. But there was an issue highlighted by a basic question: Should an all-cash medical pot store be allowed to operate across the street from a school?

The city, and eventually the state, said yes.

Renatta Adan-Espinoza, principal and operator of Academy for Positive Learning, a Lake Worth charter school. (Photo provided)

The school’s operator, Renatta Espinoza, said no. And I agree.

Because this is not about whether people suffering from debilitating diseases or conditions should have access to medical cannabis to ease their pain. In fact, 78 percent of Palm Beach County residents rightly voted in favor of Amendment 2 in 2016.

This, Espinoza says, is about putting a medical pot dispensary so near a school full of children is inviting unnecessary risk for her students, some of whom have to stand outside to catch the PalmTran bus.

Espinoza is afraid that ultimately, the all-cash business will attract too much of the wrong element. Exaggerated fear or not, the question is a legitimate one.

Enough so that when the Florida Legislature finally got around to putting rules in place to implement the law approved by voter referendum, lawmakers decided that these dispensaries should not be sited within 500 feet of a school.

The slow-moving Legislature was apparently too late with regard to Curaleaf and other medical pot dispensaries around the state that smartly refused to wait on waffling lawmakers. They applied to open-minded municipalities like Lake Worth, and received approval to locate where ever those municipalities allowed.

RELATED: Editorial: Medical marijuana clinic, Lake Worth school a bad mix

Having, for some reason, allowed Medical Health Concepts to locate across the street from Academy for Positive Learning in the first place, city officials felt they didn’t have an out by the time the Legislature acted. And Modern Health Concepts, now Curaleaf, wasn’t walking away.

Academy for Positive Learning has been at 1200 North Dixie Highway the past 5 years. (Kevin D. Thompson/The Palm Beach Post)

What’s a little strange is that the city didn’t question the store’s owners more about their choice of location sans the Legislature. After all, the school has been there since 2014. Why risk making the city look like a bad guy bullying a tiny school lauded for its work with ESOL kids? (Espinoza, for example, is being feted in April by Florida TaxWatch Inc., a statewide non-profit, as one of its 2017 Principal Leadership Award winners.)

But Espinoza’s pleas — and full disclosure, the Post Editorial Board’s chastising — aside, Lake Worth officials say they had no choice.

To quote former Vice President Joe Biden, “that sounds like a load of hooey.”

There was indeed a choice: they city wanted either an A-rated public school at that location or a medical pot shop.

It looks like the city just made the wrong choice; which was to do nothing.

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