By Mary Thurwachter
After hearing comments from dozens of residents, the Lantana Town Council voted unanimously on Jan. 24 not to allow medical marijuana dispensaries.
Lantana has prohibited them since December 2017, but the issue resurfaced last summer when a local businessman asked the Town Council to reconsider and enact an ordinance allowing the pharmacies. At that time, the town voted down the ordinance.
Last October, Mayor Robert Hagerty asked that the issue be brought back for consideration, saying he wanted to look at the matter from a different perspective.
Frustrated residents who had attended multiple meetings to protest the ordinance returned en masse on Jan. 24, bringing reinforcements — including a retired professor from Wharton School of Business, a drug intervention therapist and others.
Opponents maintained the dispensaries weren’t needed here, brought in no tax revenue, and did not present the image they wanted for the town.
“This is really like Groundhog Day,” said Media Beverly, one of many Hypoluxo Island residents who oppose allowing the dispensaries. “This is the seventh time I’ve been here and provided verifiable statistics from months of research.”
Beverly said no matter how many times the issue resurfaced, she and others would return. “Let’s stop wasting time and money on this issue and let’s get to work on the master plan.”
A few residents did speak in favor of the ordinance. Most notable was Dave Arm, president of the Lantana Chamber of Commerce and owner of Lantana Fitness at 700 W. Lantana Road. He wants to have a dispensary in his building and said the issue was about “attracting 21st century vendors in a town that desperately needs good retailers.”
Arm said medical marijuana treatment centers are well-capitalized by major national corporations, are attractive and provide good jobs in the community. He said they do not cause an increase in crime.
“Our building, Lantana Fitness building, is 25 years old and we’re the newest building between Broadway and KFC. It’s time we get some responsible development in here and development begets development, as anyone in commercial real estate knows.
“This place is deteriorating and if we have someone who is willing to spend $75,000 to a million dollars to redo a building, to put in landscaping, we should be encouraging that.”
Opponents argued that there were plenty of dispensaries in neighboring cities.
Joni Epstein-Feld of Hypoluxo Island said she is a marijuana user and has no problem going to Lake Worth or Boynton Beach, or having it delivered if she needs it.
“I am certainly not against medical marijuana,” Epstein-Feld said. “I am against medical marijuana in this town. I want restaurants. I want a nice little downtown area … and I think you should consider the fact that 9 out of 10 people have gotten up here and did not want to have it here.”
Ted Cook, who lives in the Moorings, said allowing dispensaries was not good for the town.
“We’ve got 3 square miles. We need to change our image. And this doesn’t help it,” he said.
John Brune, a drug and alcohol interventionist and a semi-retired commercial real estate developer who lives in the Moorings, said putting medical marijuana dispensaries on Lantana Road wasn’t a good idea.
“If this is going to be the entrance to Lantana, I think it deserves a higher and better use,” he said.
A proponent of the ordinance, Vice Mayor Pro Tem Karen Lythgoe, said she was pro-business and anti-blight.
“I’m tired of the run-down businesses I see on the south side of Lantana Road, and I didn’t want to see the gym, which is one of the nicest buildings on that side of the road, go to some other company that’s not going to put money into it.”
However, “based on how things are going tonight, I’m not going to vote for it, but I’d like to leave it open for our town vision meeting if we’re going to have a master plan.”
Council member Lynn Moorhouse said he agreed with Erica Wold, a member of the planning and zoning board, who said this wasn’t about denying people the medication they need.
“It is readily available,” Moorhouse said. “If I called at the beginning of the meeting, we’d have had a delivery by now.”
Moorhouse said he didn’t think people were scared, as someone alleged. “They just don’t want it here. I get it. I don’t care if you don’t want it because you think it’ll bring insects into the town. It doesn’t matter your reason. … On the other side, I totally understand that. You do want it, but I don’t think it has to be here.”
Moorhouse wanted to put in a contingency where the matter couldn’t come back anytime soon. But Town Attorney Max Lohman said it would be difficult to “bind the hand of a legislative body.”
In other action, the council:
• Voted to hire the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council to create a master plan for the town for $169,800.
• Approved spending $26,849 to lease a 2022 Ford Explorer from Enterprise Fleet Management for the town manager.
• Heard from former Mayor Dave Stewart, who said his bank account was fraudulently charged $17,000 because someone got his account number, routing number and signature off checks the town had published in its meeting backup materials. The materials were available online and not removed when Stewart asked.
The checks were connected to a sexual harassment suit. After Stewart was exonerated by the Florida Commission on Ethics in 2019, the town agreed to reimburse him for legal fees.