Monday, November 29, 2021

City Council to Consider Options on Allowing Marijuana Vote

Photos by Steve Stefanides

Voters may have an opportunity to express their opinions on the issue of whether recreational marijuana (cannabis) will be sold on Marco Island, should and if, the state legalizes its use within the State of Florida.  

The statewide referendum initiative to legalize cannabis sales and possession was supposed to appear on Florida ballots later this year, however, its supporters chose to back away from their referendum plans for the 2020 election. That decision came about after falling short on the necessity to gather 700,000 signatures in their petition drive. Their organization, Make It Legal Florida, felt Florida’s narrow window to obtain the necessary signatures would have made their goal impossible. 

All this was after raising $8.7 million and spending $7.7 million on the effort. The process will allow them to continue to raise money with plans to have the initiative placed on the 2022 ballot. Those signed petitions are valid for 2 years and the state has verified 295,072 of those signatures needed. 

One section of the verbiage in their petition would have included allowing “existing medical marijuana treatment centers in the state the right to sell marijuana and other accessories, if clearly labeled and enclosed in childproof packaging.” 

A long discussion regarding the allowance of medical marijuana dispensaries ensued during the late spring and early summer of 2019 on Marco Island after a “White Paper” was presented by Councilman Honig, who explained it was for just informational purposes only. Shortly after that Councilman Grifoni came forward with a proposed ordinance to allow the establishment of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries on Marco Island. 

On June 16, 2014, Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 1030, which is now known at the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. However, Collier County and the City of Naples have blocked approving the licensing of dispensaries within Collier County or the city of Naples, which is their right.  

Photos by Steve Stefanides

At the 2019 meeting of the Marco City Council on June 18th, by a 5-2 vote with Councilors Grifoni, Young, Rios, Roman and Honig voting in favor. Board Chairman Brechnitz suggested a modified motion which would have included a clause approving the medical cannabis dispensary/treatment center, but banning any future consideration of legalizing the sale of “recreational marijuana” on the island. That attempt drew a strong rebuke from Councilors Honig and Grifoni who opposed any addition of that language and was only supported by Council Chair Brechnitz, Vice Chair Roman and Councilor Reed.  

Most residents who appeared at those meetings were not in opposition to the medical use of “cannabis,” but were concerned with the potential for being the only outlet within the county and for the eventual addition of recreational uses. At the present time, no dispensaries have been opened within the city, but one has submitted a building permit application to the city to make improvements to a building located at 695 Bald Eagle Drive. The building is owned by James Karl, a local attorney who has offices at 1095 Bald Eagle Drive. 

At the May 4th meeting of the council, a citizens committee will present to the city council those petitions it has been collecting to ban the sales of recreational cannabis in any of the zoning districts on Marco Island. Should it pass, it would not affect the sale of medical cannabis products or CBD oils, it would only affect recreational cannabis. 

The verbiage was previously approved as meeting the “sufficiency guidelines” for an ordinance by the City Attorney Alan Gabriel, of the law firm of Weiss-Serota the city’s legal firm. Those petitions have also been certified as to meeting the requisite numbers required of registered voters from Marco Island to qualify under the referendum guidelines by the County Elections Supervisor’s Office. 

Council will have two viable options to pick from, the first of which would be to accept the petitions and set down two hearings to adopt the ordinance. The second would be to approve the presentation and send it to the voters for their approval or disapproval during the August 18 Primary Day Election. A third option lies in calling a “special election” which would be costly and not necessary when the August Primary is right around the corner. 

The committee, which is known as Ban Recreational Marijuana (BRM), have adopted the slogan “Let the Voters Decide.” The May 4 meeting of the council will begin promptly at 5:30 PM in the council chambers. 

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