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NOVEMBER 21, 2019

Medical Marijuana Policies among Florida’s Local Municipalities

By Dr. Stephen Neely, Associate Professor, Public Administration
In Collaboration with Steven Fernandez, MA, GISP, CCM, Research Associate, Urban & Regional Planning

In the past five years, Florida has seen a number of substantial changes in state-level policy surrounding the use and accessibility of medical marijuana. In November of 2016, Floridians voted in favor of Amendment 2, which allowed for an extensive increase in access to medical marijuana throughout the state. The amendment, which was supported by over 70% of voters – expanded on legislation passed in 2014, which permitted the limited use of medical marijuana for a small subset of severe illnesses. Amendment 2 expanded the list of "treatable" conditions while also softening restrictions on the nature of products available to patients.

In light of this policy change, the state’s municipal governments have been required to establish local policies related to the presence of medical marijuana dispensaries within their jurisdictions. In particular, local governments have been granted the discretion to either allow or prohibit these establishments. Many jurisdictions have already made these determinations, while others have opted for temporary moratoriums pending further deliberation.

We recently examined the adoption and prohibition of medical marijuana dispensaries by municipal governments throughout the state of Florida in an effort to better understand these decisions as well as any patterns that might be emerging in medical marijuana policy throughout the state[1]. The data showed several surprising conclusions, most notably some unexpected geographical and political relationships. For instance:

Regional Differences: There have been some notable differences in geographical patterns of adoption throughout the state.

  • The rate of adoption has been highest in Northwestern Florida (the Panhandle), where over 55% of responding municipalities report having allowed medical marijuana dispensaries.
  • Rates of adoption have been lowest in the Southeastern and Southwestern regions of the state, with the latter experiencing a particularly high rate of moratorium decisions.

Political Differences: The findings also suggest an erosion of traditional ideological differences over the legalization of medical marijuana. Those areas which voted more heavily in favor of Donald Trump in 2016 were more likely to allow medical marijuana dispensaries. (The average vote for Trump in adopting municipalities was 55.5%, compared with an average of 51.7% in non-adopting municipalities).

[1] This analysis was conducted using a combination of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Florida Department of State: Division of Elections, Politico, and the Florida League of Cities annual City Stats survey. The sample was limited to those municipalities that provided an answer to the City Stats survey question: How is your city dealing with medical marijuana dispensaries? Three response options were provided with this query, including allow, prohibit, and moratorium. A total of 412 responses were received to the City Stats survey, but 110 municipalities did not provide a response to this question, and so they have been excluded from this analysis. Complete data were also not available for 10 additional respondents, leaving a total sample size of 292 for the purposes of this study.

Regional Differences
One particular concern that we considered in this analysis was potential patterns of policy adoption across the state’s diverse geographical regions. While conventional wisdom might have suggested a lower rate of adoption in traditionally conservative regions of the state, we found the opposite to be true. Table 1 below shows medical marijuana polices among the responding jurisdictions, broken down by region of the state. As the data show, rates of adoption have been highest in Northwestern Florida, where more than half of the responding jurisdictions (55.3%) have allowed medical marijuana dispensaries and only a quarter (26.3%) have prohibited them. In both Central and Northeast Florida, 40% or more of the responding jurisdictions have allowed medical marijuana dispensaries. Though it should be noted that a large number of municipalities (45.7%) have also opted to prohibit dispensaries in Northeastern Florida.


In contrast, both Southeast and Southwest Florida have seen significantly lower rates of adoption, with less than a quarter of the responding jurisdictions allowing medical marijuana as of the time of the 2018 City Stats survey. It should be noted that the data set includes a larger than average number of non-respondents among municipalities in Southeastern Florida. That said, the available data do strongly suggest that municipalities in Southeastern and Southwestern Florida have been less likely to allow medical marijuana dispensaries thus far, and by a notable margin. A chi-square test (χ2) showed this to be a statistically significant relationship. Figure 1 below provides a visual depiction of these policy decisions throughout the state.


Political Differences
While closely correlated with region, we were also interested in examining whether the adoption of medical marijuana dispensaries varied significantly based on the political composition and behavior of the communities in question. In order to examine this, we collected data on party identification and voting behavior[2]. Due to limitations in data availability, we were required to use county-level data as a proxy for political affiliation and behavior in the municipalities. Statistical tests (independent sample t-tests) were used to examine the relationship between these political variables and the adoption/prohibition of medical marijuana dispensaries. In particular, the results presented in Table 2 below show a statistically significant relationship between policy adoption and the percent of Trump voters in the county.

[2] Data for these variables were collected from two separate sources. Party registration data were collected from the Florida Department of State: Division of Elections. The 2016 voting data was collected from Politico’s election results data.


In this case, those municipalities which have opted to "allow" medical marijuana dispensaries were slightly more likely to have supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The average vote for Trump in adopting municipalities was 55.5%, compared with an average of 51.7% in non-adopting municipalities.

While our analysis focused on additional considerations, these data stood out in particular, as they seem to suggest an erosion of political and regional differences on the issue of medical marijuana legalization. More traditionally conservative areas of the state appear to not only be accepting of medical marijuana adoption, but according to these data appear to be "leading the way" in a state that anticipates having more than half a million certified medical marijuana patients by the year 2020.

OCTOBER 30, 2019

Planning in Shrinking Cities

By Dr. Mark Hafen, Master Instructor & Program Director, Urban & Regional Planning

Vacant: A house in Youngstown, OH sits vacant, overlooking industrial facilities (AP Photo/Mark Stahl).

Those of us here in the booming Sun Belt are familiar with the problems of rapidly growing cities: sprawl, mobility, affordable housing, economic development, etc. But, like many Floridians, I came from "up North" – Pittsburgh, originally – and I was part of an out-migration that took place during the 1980's and 1990's as the industrial base of the Northeast and Upper Midwest collapsed.

Even if I had wanted to stay in Pittsburgh when I graduated from college in 1980, there were no jobs to be had. And so I bounced around between St. Louis, MO and Columbus, OH for six years, working for Anheuser-Busch (beer sales are high during economic downturns!). I landed in the Tampa Bay area in 1986, working for a company, Anchor Glass Container, which had relocated its entire corporate headquarters from Lancaster, OH to Tampa. That job only lasted three years, and the rest is a story for another time, but it is an example of how both people and entire businesses can be part of these out-migrations, taking everything with them: jobs, incomes, tax revenues, and general socioeconomic stability.


Old infrastructure: Detroit's downtown people mover (author’s photo, 2018).

Most of my family still lives in the Pittsburgh area, and I have friends in St. Louis and other cities in the Northeast and Midwest that are still seeing their populations decline. Detroit, of course, is the primary example of a hollowed-out city trying to rebuild itself from what is left of its original structure. But there are plenty of others in the same situation, as discussed in this article from Next City which reviewed the book Shrinking Cities: Understanding Urban Decline in the United States (Weaver et al., 2016).

Planning for decline is a very different process than planning for growth: land and buildings must be re-used and repurposed, economic foundations changed, revenue sources modified, and budgets and infrastructure "rightsized" (in the 1980's, that was code for "massive layoffs").

Knowing and applying such techniques is absolutely necessary. Cities have to respond or risk descending into anarchy. Some cities have accepted that they are going to be smaller in population and have a completely different type of economy—Cleveland and Buffalo come to mind—and are working to restructure themselves accordingly. Others have not yet given up, hoping to attract new residents and businesses by revitalizing their traditional economic foundations.


Repurposed: The formerly abandoned South Hills High School in Pittsburgh was converted to an independent living facility for seniors (author’s photo, 2014).

Pittsburgh has greatly changed its economy over the last several decades, from one based on manufacturing to "eds and meds" – tech jobs, the educational sector, and health care. UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Centers) is now one of the largest employers in the region. Yet, according to the above article, Pittsburgh is still projected to lose 25% of its population over the period 2000-2040 (much of which, I assume, has already happened). When I visit Pittsburgh these days, I see clear evidence that some parts of the region have been left out of this transformation, especially the smaller steel towns downriver from the main city, which had absolutely no economic diversity from which to rebuild. Poverty and blight abound.

Planning professionals – and planning students – who may find themselves working in declining city regions are going to have to acquire some unique skills to address these problems. In some ways, it is a "blank slate," a chance to try something new and innovative. In other cases, it is a matter of damage control, trying to keep your city up and running while revenues that paid for even the most basic services dwindle. Either way, it presents a challenge for urban planners.

And this, in turn, presents a challenge for urban planning educators, particularly those of us here at USF. The majority of our students come from Florida, and their experience and focus is on planning for growth. Our program touts its location in Tampa Bay as a "living laboratory" for planning, but really only in planning for population increase and economic development, neither of which is projected to cease anytime soon.

Can we "reverse engineer" basic planning principles based on growth to work for declining cities? Well, comprehensive planning for shrinking populations and economic decline still requires the basics: analysis of existing conditions, projections and scenario planning, and establishing goals, objectives, and policies that plan the future. So I have confidence the planners we are preparing will know how to be effective in any city, growing or declining.