Ordinance to ban recreational marijuana on Marco Island dead on arrival

Chairperson Erik Brechnitz voted in June against a resolution that provides regulations for medical marijuana dispensing facilities on Marco Island. The resolution passed 5-2, despite the nay votes of Brechnitz and councilor Howard Reed. At the time, Brechnitz and Reed also failed to pass an amendment that would prohibit recreational marijuana

A draft of an ordinance to ban recreational marijuana on Marco Island is dead on arrival after it failed Monday to garner support from the majority of City Council members.

The ordinance, presented by chairperson Erik Brechnitz for discussion only, would prohibit the sale, use, distribution, cultivation and warehousing of "non-medical use marijuana."

Brechnitz wrote in a position paper he wants to prohibit recreational marijuana in case the state of Florida legalizes it and does not allow cities to opt out. 

"Perhaps upon passage, the state will give communities the ability to opt out," Brechnitz wrote. "If the state of Florida [...] does not allow communities to opt out, we will be in a stronger position if we already have an ordinance in the books."

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he opposes legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes.

In case you missed it:Issler leads PAC pushing for marijuana referendum

And:Marco Island City Council greenlights medical marijuana dispensaries

Brechnitz wrote another reason to prohibit recreational marijuana on Marco is to prevent a "divisive debate" brought by a recreational marijuana referendum. 

The Eagle reported on July 23 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 chairperson of the Ban Recreational Marijuana PAC, Edgar "Ed" Issler, actively opposed the then proposed and now approved City Council resolution green-lighting medical marijuana dispensaries on Marco 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.

"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," Issler said at the time.

The PAC drafted a similar ordinance to Brechnitz's but they way to achieve its goal differs. While the PAC wants to amend the city's zoning laws Brechnitz wants to amend chapter 18 of the Code of Ordinances that regulates noxious plants and fertilizer regulations, among other things.

The Eagle obtained a copy of the PAC's draft through the City of Marco Island.

"The only thing that will stop us from starting our campaign in January of 2020 is if City Council passes an ordinance that accomplishes the same thing as our ordinance," Issler wrote to the Eagle.

Issler is also a member of the Marco Island Planning Board.

Brechnitz said he based his ordinance, not in the PAC's, but in one approved on first reading by Sarasota County.

The chair of the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners, Charles D. Hines, wrote in an email to the Eagle the board has not approved a similar bill on first reading.

"No we have not," wrote Hines.

The City Commission of Sarasota, on the other hand, approved in September an ordinance making possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis punishable by a civil penalty of $100 or 10 hours of community service. 

The ordinance will take effect in December.

"The ordinance I passed was a decriminalized civil citation in lieu arrest for possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana and related paraphernalia,"  Sarasota city commissioner Hagen Brody wrote in an email to the Eagle.

Councilor Jared Grifoni showed  three cannabidiol (CBD) products bought in Marco Island businesses: hair serum, dog treats and a lip balm. "All the above products under the definition contain within this ordinance are non-medical marijuana," Grifoni said.

Councilor Jared Grifoni said Brechnitz's ordinance would create unintended consequences that could negatively affect citizens and local businesses. 

Grifoni then showed three cannabidiol products bought in Marco Island businesses: dog treats, hair serum and a lip balm. 

While cannabidiol, also knows as CBD, is an essential component of medical marijuana, it is derived directly from the hemp plant and it does not cause a high, according to a Harvard article. Both hemp and marijuana are strains of the same cannabis sativa plant.

"All the above products under the definition contain within this ordinance are non-medical marijuana [...] and fall on the wrong side of this proposal even if they are legal under state and federal law.," Grifoni said.

Grifoni also said, even if amended, the ordinance would be hard to enforce.

More:Up in smoke? Hemp law complicates prosecution of marijuana possession charges in Florida

"Law enforcement agencies and state attorney offices all over the state of Florida are actually advising to limit, reduce or eliminate arrests on minor possession because hemp is indistinguishable by police field tests and state laboratories," Grifoni said.

Naples Daily News reported in August the lack of access to a test that can distinguish between hemp and marijuana is forcing Florida state attorney's offices and law enforcement agencies to rethink the way they handle marijuana charges and seizures after a new hemp law came into effect July 1.

Councilor Larry Honig said the ordinance is based on hypotheticals because, unlike medical marijuana, recreational marijuana is not authorized by the state.

Marco Island City Councilor Larry Honig said the anti-marijuana ordinance proposed by chairperson Erik Brechnitz is taking 'moralism' to the extreme.

"For us to develop legislation based on hypothetical action by the state legislature strikes me as at least one step and maybe two steps removed from what is our remit as a municipal government," Honig said. "This is taking moralism to the extreme."

"We have no business on this turf."

City attorney Alan L. Gabriel said Sarasota County ran through the same issues when an ordinance to ban recreational marijuana was proposed.

"The discussion we are having today is exactly why Sarasota County backed away from proceeding with their proposal," Gabriel said. "We do not know what the state of Florida will do if they do anything."

Scheril Murray Powell, cannabis attorney and in-house council for Your CBD Store, cautioned City Council about including hemp in the definition of recreational marijuana.  "You would be setting a precedent and it's a dangerous precedent," Murray Powell said.

In case you missed it:A Fort Myers doctor is Florida's single largest medical marijuana prescriber, state report shows