Marco Island moves closer to having medical marijuana dispensaries

Alex Popoff, an Air Force Veteran, said that a survey released by the American Legion in 2017 estimated that 83 percent of all veteran households support legalizing medical cannabis nationwide.

The City Council voted Monday to direct the city attorney to prepare a resolution stating that medical marijuana dispensaries are permitted on Marco Island.

The motion, presented by councilor Jared Grifoni, passed 5-2. Chairperson Erik Brechnitz and councilor Howard Reed voted against it.

In November 2016, more than 70 percent of Floridians voted in favor of amending the state constitution to expand medical marijuana access to a larger list of medical conditions. In Marco Island, 60 percent of the voters voted in favor. 

More:What to know as Amendment 2 goes into effect on Tuesday

"If medical cannabis was a City Council candidate, it would have come in second place in 2016 and first place in any other election year thus far," Grifoni said. "I respect the will of the voters, the patients and their constitutional rights."

Councilor Jared Grifoni said people should be less concerned about a (medical marijuana) dispensary than they are about a traditional pharmacy or a liquor store. "Many of the substances sold in those types of locations are many times more dangerous than anything you’d find in a dispensary," Grifoni said.

Councilor Sam Young, speaking in favor of the motion, said he had smoke marijuana in his early years and also referenced the 2016 referendum.

"The voters have spoken, I support the voters," Young said.

Veterans, caretakers, doctors and nurses spoke publicly in favor having medical marijuana dispensaries in Marco.

Lee Shook, a mother of an adult seizure patient, said medical marijuana dramatically reduced her son's seizures.

"We have gone from four anti-seizure medications down to one," Shook said. "When you look at his eyes there was somebody there now."

Alex Popoff, an Air Force veteran, said that after two back surgeries due to military training and a car accident, he was prescribed addictive medications that did little to ease his pain and that included side effects like stomach issues and crippling anxiety.

"Cannabis alone completely replaced all of medications I was taking, with almost zero side effects," Popoff said.

Popoff said that, like many others in Marco Island, he currently has to drive about 35 miles to Bonita Springs to fill his medical marijuana prescription. 

More:Fourth medical marijuana dispensary opens in Bonita Springs

Bonita Springs now has six medical marijuana dispensaries or Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTC), as the state calls them.

The sixth MMTC to open in Bonita Springs, GTI (RISE Dispensaries), was approved last month by the Florida Department of Health. 

Despite of his back pain, Popoff drives to Bonita Springs or Fort Myers one to three times per month, depending of the severity of his condition.

"Sometimes I'm physically unable to drive anywhere," Popoff said in an email to the Marco Eagle. "A lot of the (medical marijuana) patients that live in the island can barely move out of their house."

On the other hand, chairperson Brechnitz said that medical marijuana is paving the way for recreational marijuana.

"This is a preclude to recreational marijuana," Brechnitz said.

Some studies suggest that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it, rising to about 17 percent in those who start using in their teens, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

James Faremouth, a family physician, said to the City Council that medical marijuana is a safe treatment for many medical conditions and that it will help fight the opiate epidemic.

"I've never seen somebody die because of marijuana," Faremouth said.

Councilor Charlette Roman said that doctors should consider all legal treatment options for their patients.

"Treatment options, including medical marijuana, are best left to doctors and their patients," Roman said.

Councilor Charlette Roman said the question people need to ask themselves is not if they are in favor or against medical marijuana. "Do we want a medical marijuana dispensary in Marco Island?" Roman said it was the correct question to ask.

Closer to the end of the debate, chairperson Brechnitz suggested that medical marijuana could me mailed to patients in Marco Island to avoid having MMTCs or marijuana dispensaries in the island.

"That's illegal," a person from the public said, interrupting Brechnitz.

Marijuana, medical or otherwise, is considered a prohibited domestic and international item by the United States Postal Service.

The city attorney, Alan Gabriel, has until June 17 to submit the resolution to the City Council, according to the motion approved.

How Floridians can legally acquire medical marijuana

  1.  A qualified physician diagnoses a patient with a qualifying medical condition.If the patient is younger than 18 or terminal, a second physician must concur.
  2. The physician enters the patient's information and order into the Medical Marijuana Use Registry. Caregivers must also be added to the registry.
  3. The patient and any caregivers must then apply for a Medical Marijuana Use Registry Identification Card.
  4. Qualified patients may fill the physician's order at any Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC).

Source: Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU), Know the Facts.

Qualifying medical conditions

  • Cancer
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Crohn's disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Others

Source: Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU), Know the Facts.

Medical marijuana by the numbers

  • 224,815: the number of qualified patients with active ID Cards in Florida.
  • 2,293: the number of qualified physicians in Florida.
  • 131dispensing locations in Florida.

Source: Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU), May 31, 2019 report