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A group of Marco Islanders filed papers with the City Clerk to establish a political action committee (PAC) that will push for a marijuana referendum. 

The Ban Recreational Marijuana PAC, led by Marco Island Planning Board member, Edgar "Ed" Issler, submitted the initial documents July 12.

"We are well along in having a political action committee with the intent of presenting an ordinance to the voters of Marco Island to ban the sale and distribution of recreational marijuana," Issler said. "We just want to make sure that we are in a position to codify our ban on recreational marijuana in the event that the state would legalize it."

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has said in several recent interviews that recreational marijuana won't me legalized under his watch.

Issler said the other PAC members are Bob Brown, Russ Colombo, Regina L. Dayton, Amadeo Petricca, Virgina Bingle, James Lang and Joe Rola. Issler is the chairman, Petricca the treasurer and Rola the secretary, according to the Statement of Organization of Political Committee submitted to the city.

More: NJ marijuana legalization: Here are the North Jersey towns that have said no

Several U.S. cities have preemptively banned recreational marijuana in states where it is already illegal. In New Jersey, where recreational marijuana is still illegal, several cities have adopted ordinances to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana. The New Jersey Legislature may pass a resolution calling for the issue to be included on the 2020 November ballot, North Jersey Record reported in May.

"There are cities that have banned (the sale of) recreational marijuana and then subsequently the state legalized it," Issler said. "But because they had a ban in effect when the legalization took place, the ban stands up."

Issler could not provide to the name of a U.S. city that prohibited recreational marijuana prior to the state's approval, resulting in the local recreational marijuana ordinance overruling the state law. "Our goal is to incorporate the ban via zoning," Issler wrote in a text message to the Eagle. "The timing is irrelevant."

More: States with legal marijuana see rise in car crashes, studies find

The majority of Marco Islanders are against recreational marijuana, according to Issler. "We do not want to increase the number of impaired drivers," Issler said. "We do not want to make it easier for teens to acquire and use marijuana."

The legalization of recreational marijuana has been tied to a six percent increase in car accidents, according to two studies, and the director of research at the Boys Town National Research Institute for Child and Family Studies, W. Alex Mason, wrote in 2015 for the American Psychological Association that favorable attitudes toward marijuana combined with increased availability, like in the home, "might lead to further increases in adolescent marijuana use under legalization."

More: Marco Island City Council greenlights medical marijuana dispensaries

Earlier this year, Issler actively opposed the then proposed and now approved City Council resolution green-lighting medical marijuana dispensaries in Marco Island. Issler said in the June 17 City Council meeting that he emailed a survey to 5,200 registered voters in Marco Island and the preliminary results were that 59 percent of Marco Islanders did not want medical marijuana dispensaries on the island.

The PAC's ordinance, according to Issler, would also amend the Marco Island Land Development Code to specify where medical marijuana dispensaries can be established.

A county or municipality can't enact ordinances for permitting or for determining the location of dispensing facilities that are more restrictive than its ordinances permitting or determining the locations for pharmacies, according to state law. Florida law also says that a medical marijuana treatment center, cultivating or processing facility can't be located within 500 feet of the real property that comprises a public or private elementary school, middle school or secondary school

The precise language of a possible ballot measure requires close evaluation, according to Councilor Jared Grifoni. "If it turns out to be a thinly veiled backdoor ban of medical cannabis and an attack on free market principles then I would anticipate a vigorous defense by our citizens of their constitutional and economic rights," Grifoni wrote in an email to the Eagle.

"Recreational marijuana is already illegal at the federal and state level and thus on Marco Island," Grifoni said Friday.

Alex Popoff, an Air Force veteran and medical marijuana advocate, said the would-be ordinance is important for him and that it should be for all residents of Marco Island. "Recreational cannabis is illegal under Florida law and Ed Issler is engaged in a backdoor attempt to restrict patients' access to medical cannabis by commencing a witch hunt against a non-existent foe," Popoff wrote in an email to the Eagle. "Working to preempt state and local law changes may seem noble to some but it is nothing more than a pop shot at medical patients." 

"Folks should not be fooled by it," Popoff said.

Ten percent of the qualified electors of the city have the power to petition the City Council to propose an ordinance, according to the Marco Island Code of Ordinances. If the council fails to adopt the proposed ordinance, the council has to place it on the ballot at the next general election, or, in council's discretion, at a special election.

On October, when seasonal Marco Islanders start coming back to the island, Issler said he expects the PAC to start gathering signatures from local registered voters to bring the ordinance to the consideration of the City Council. "Our goal is to get 3,000 or 4,000 signatures," Issler said. "We are only required to get 1,260."

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