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Marco Island 'banning recreational marijuana' ordinance heads to polls in August

Recreational use of marijuana.

The Marco Island City Council voted unanimously Monday to schedule a referendum banning recreational marijuana for the countywide primary election Aug. 18.

Council also directed the city attorney to draft a resolution to that end which will be considered during the next meeting.

On April 15, the city clerk received from the Collier County Supervisor of Elections office a certification that 1,275 registered city voters signed a petition for an ordinance to prohibit cultivating, manufacturing, warehousing, distributing and selling recreational marijuana.

State and federal law currently prohibit recreational marijuana.

The Ban Recreational Marijuana PAC, led by Marco Island planning board member  Edgar "Ed" Issler, excluded from its  effort hemp derived products containing 0.3% or less of THC, the compound that gives pot its high, and medical marijuana.

Issler said the political action committee acquired "almost twice" the amount of signatures required to move the ordinance forward but that the supervisor of elections stopped validating them after reaching 10% of registered voters.

"I'm very proud of the committee and everybody who helped gathered the signatures because a major part of that signature gathering experience was done during this (coronavirus) pandemic," he said.

Edgar "Ed" Issler is a member of Marco Island's planning board.

Vice-chair Jared Grifoni said the ordinance could have unintended consequences because it was "poorly drafted."

"It never properly defines what medical marijuana is under Florida statue," he said. "This could [...] prevent medical (cannabis) patients from getting access to their medicine locally." 

The ordinance also bans marijuana delivery devices used by medical marijuana patients, according to Grifoni.

During his time at the podium, Issler said medical marijuana is defined correctly on the ordinance and that the marijuana delivery devices would be allowed if used for medicinal purposes.

"On line 30 of the ordinance it says medical marijuana 'as defined in the State of Florida Statutes,'" he said.

"As far as the paraphernalia that is used for medical marijuana, [...] if somebody was using that very paraphernalia for medical marijuana it would not apply to this land development code addition."

Scheril Murray Powell, attorney and legalization activist, told the Eagle it is "premature" to ban recreational marijuana at the municipal level if it has not been legalized by the state or federal governments.

"If it's a constitutional amendment that legalizes recreational marijuana and it doesn't give the municipalities the ability to ban it, then their ordinance would be null and void," she said.

Attorney Scheril Murray Powell speaks during a Marco Island City Council meeting Oct. 7, 2019.

Murray Powell called any attempt to restrict recreational marijuana prior to its legalization a "non-ripe issue." "It means they are trying to restrict something (that) doesn't even exist yet."

Answering a question from councilor Charlette Roman, city attorney Alan Gabriel said the law allows City Council to "reverse the vote" after the conclusion of the referendum.

"So it's not binding," Roman said.

Issler's political action committee filed papers with the city clerk July 12 of last year to officially establish the group. Prior to filing, he actively opposed a resolution green-lighting medical marijuana dispensaries by speaking against the ordinance in council meetings and sending surveys to thousands via email.

On March 3, Issler said he was never opposed to the concept of medical marijuana.

"I testified in front of City Council that I was opposed to medical marijuana on Marco Island because [...] we would be the only place in Collier County where medical marijuana would be available," he said. "I felt it was too much stress on the traffic."

Issler said the political action committee's ordinance will not prohibit medical marijuana. "That train has left the station," he said. 

In October, Columbia Care became the first medical marijuana dispensary to submit a building permit application to the city. 

A week later, a draft of an ordinance to ban recreational marijuana prepared by Chairperson Erik Brechnitz was dead on arrival after it failed to garner support from the majority of City Council members.

Reporter Jim Saunders with News Service of Florida reported on April 28 that the Florida Supreme Court was to have a hearing May 6 on a recreational marijuana proposal that could go on the 2022 ballot. In April, the state Senate filed brief saying new law supports arguments tha the court should block the proposal.

The proposal would permit adults 21 years or older to possess, use, purchase, display and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and marijuana accessories for personal use for any reason, according to the Make It Legal Florida political action committee.

It would also allow Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers to sell, distribute or dispense marijuana and marijuana accessories if clearly labeled and in childproof packaging to adults. 

Marco Island is not the only city in U.S to ban recreational marijuana.

Reporter Grace Hauck with the USA TODAY reported on Dec. 1 that since Michiganders voted to approve legalizing recreational marijuana in November 2018, "approximately 80% of municipalities in the state have opted out of allowing recreational sales in their communities."

In New Jersey, several cities banned recreational marijuana before legislative leaders announced in November of last year that recreational marijuana was heading to the polls, NorthJersey.com reported Aug. 15, 2018.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for May 18.

Registered voters interested in requesting vote-by-mail ballots have until Aug. 8 to do so on the Collier County Supervisor of Elections' website: https://www.colliervotes.com/Vote-by-Mail/Vote-by-Mail-Ballot-Request.

Omar Rodríguez Ortiz is a community reporter for Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR, and on Facebook. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.