The Duval County School Board wants the city to make it harder for medical marijuana dispensaries to open near schools.

Board members warn that without additional restrictions, nearly three dozen Duval public schools could end up being neighbors to future marijuana retail locations. And because the dispensaries deal in mostly cash transactions, they could become targets for robbery, adding to existing neighborhood risks for schools.

"The big concern is that they have to deal in cash because banks won't accept their transactions," said Warren Jones, a School Board member, referring to marijuana dispensaries.

"We have had enough code red lockdowns in the past year," he said. "There's no need to increase them because a marijuana facility was robbed." 

Because the federal government does not recognize the legality of marijuana sales in states that allow them, banks and credit card companies are not allowed to process their transactions.

Jacksonville city officials say their hands are tied by state laws that require municipalities with these dispensaries to treat them like pharmacies. That means they can locate in most commercial areas, said City Councilman John Crescimbeni.

"State law says they can locate wherever they want, provided that location would accommodate zoning that would allow for a pharmacy," he said. "The state has done what it does best, that is make things extremely muddy. ... We're trying to navigate what we can do."

Florida permits medical marijuana to be sold to people with doctor's prescriptions to treat certain medical conditions. State law limits how many large-scale marijuana nurseries can grow, process and transport marijuana throughout the state.

But state law gives municipalities a choice about marijuana dispensaries. Cities can ban dispensaries outright or allow them to operate.

Jacksonville allows them to operate and has two open already. Cities can't limit how many dispensing facilities can open within their boundaries.

Also state law prohibits marijuana growers and processors from locating within 500 feet of a public or private school, but cities must grant waivers to dispensaries to locate near schools with restrictions that are similar to those pharmacies have.

Some Jacksonville officials are proposing waiver language that is similar to limits liquor stores face.

That means marijuana locations could be near a school if the dispensaries locate in a shopping center that is 50,000 square feet or larger (like many grocery stores); or if they are part of a planned unit development; or if their site is not visible from a school or is separated from a school by such things as buildings, a highway, golf course or a forested area, said Randy Gallup, a supervisor of facility planning with Duval County schools. 

The waiver language is still being discussed by city departments and several City Council members, Crescimbeni said. Jones said the city's land use and zoning committee is supposed to take up the issue during its July 17 meeting.

Some School Board members suggested adding to the waiver language a requirement that marijuana dispensaries hire an armed security guard if they locate near a school. Jones noted that internet cafes have security guards because they deal primarily in cash.

Crescimbeni said later that pharmacies aren't required to have armed security guards, so he doesn't know if the city can do that with dispensaries.

Board member Ashley Smith Juarez recommended language that specifies no dispensaries locate within 500 feet of the property line of a school building, further adding to the distance.

Some board members worried that once a dispensary gets a waiver to locate near a school, it could result in a cluster of dispensaries opening in that neighborhood, much like Springfield has become home to several craft beer outlets recently.

Chairwoman Paula Wright asked if the city could limit the number of dispensaries in a neighborhood, because she worries that certain children will get the message it's OK to use marijuana.

Historically, researchers have noted the prominence of alcohol and tobacco advertising in many urban, low-income neighborhoods.

"We don't want to flood the area with" marijuana dispensaries, Wright said.

"How do we protect our children in the midst of this process? How do we make certain that they're not growing up drawn to this type of situation because they see this as part of their daily routine, going to school or going to the grocery store or whatever?"

Denise Smith Amos: (904) 359-4083