There is a recreational marijuana referendum on the ballot for Marco Island voters.
A referendum is a vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them, either by a legislative body or by popular initiative, for a direct decision.
This referendum began with a popular initiative and its placement on the ballot was subsequently supported by the unanimous vote of the Marco Island City Council.
In it, voters will decide whether to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana (cannabis) on Marco Island, should it become legal in the State of Florida.
A “yes” vote would ban the sale; a “no” vote would not.
“Shall the City of Marco Island enact an Ordinance of the City, adding to the Marco Island Land Development Code of the Code of Ordinances, Article II, Zoning, Chapter 30-60, prohibiting the sale, manufacturing, cultivation, distribution, warehousing of Recreational Marijuana in all zoning districts in the City; amending Article I, General, Chapter 30-10, Sub-Section (c) providing definition for “Recreational Marijuana”, and excluding Medical Marijuana and CBD products from the Prohibition.”
The referendum was initiated by Marco Island Planning Board member Edgar “Ed” Issler. He formed the Ban Recreational Marijuana PAC in July 2019 to “pass an ordinance to ban the sale, distribution, use, possession, and growing of recreational marijuana on Marco Island, FL.”
- Issler leads PAC pushing for marijuana referendum. Marco Eagle, 7/23/19
Acknowledging that the ordinance is hypothetical because recreational marijuana is currently illegal, 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.”
In addition to Issler as Chairman, the PAC’s officers are Regina L. Dayton, secretary, and Amadeo Petricca, treasurer.
By May 2020, the PAC succeeded in collecting more than enough signatures to require City Council to move it to the ballot.
- Marco Island approves ballot language for ordinance banning recreational marijuana. Marco Eagle, 5/25/20
According to its most recent campaign treasurer’s report (through 7/31/20), the PAC has raised $1,070 and spent $651.
Reasons to Oppose
Before voting to schedule the referendum for the August ballot, Marco Island City Council vice-chairman Jared Grifoni said the ordinance could have unintended consequences. ”It never properly defines what medical marijuana is under Florida statute,“ he said, “[which] could … prevent medical (cannabis) patients from getting access to their medicine locally.” He also said the ordinance bans marijuana delivery devices used by medical marijuana patients. But Issler disputed both allegations during his time at the podium.
In 2019, an attorney and legalization activist speaking during a Marco Island City Council meeting said the ordinance is “premature” because if there is a constitutional amendment that legalizes recreational marijuana and denies municipalities the ability to ban it, the ordinance would be “null and void.”
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. In other words, Roman, said, the ordinance is “not binding.”
This referendum comes at a time when the country and the state are dealing with calls to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana.
As of now, the use of marijuana for any purpose is illegal under federal law.
At the state level, Florida opened the door to medical marijuana in 2014 when then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act (Senate Bill 1030).
- Gov. Rick Scott signs ‘Charlotte’s Web’ medical marijuana bill. Tampa Bay Times, 11/7/14
Then in 2016, voters approved a state constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, broadening access beyond the limited therapeutic uses approved two years earlier.
- Medical marijuana approved by Florida voters. The News-Press, 11/9/16
Since then, the use of marijuana for recreational purposes has been the subject of ongoing attempts to amend the Florida constitution to allow it.
- Florida’s marijuana legalization movement continues to gain momentum. WLRN Radio, 11/24/19
A statewide effort was launched in 2019 to legalize cannabis sales and possession. The proposed amendment would also allow medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana.
Sponsors had hoped to gather enough signatures to put the question to the voters this year. But a law passed by the Florida legislature in 2019 made it more difficult for citizens’ initiatives to get on the ballot.
- Florida House passes bill that makes it much harder for ballot measures. News Service of Florida via Tampa Bay Times, 4/26/20
As a result, Make It Legal Florida, the amendment’s sponsor, is now focused on 2022.
- You won’t get to vote on recreational marijuana this year. Sun Sentinel, 1/13/20
Despite having the ability under Florida law, Collier County and the City of Naples have so far blocked the licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries within those areas.
- Medical dispensaries fall one vote short in Collier again. Naples Daily News, 12/12/18
But the City of Marco Island voted to allow it in June 2019. The vote was 5-2, with Chairperson Erik Brechnitz and councilor Howard Reed opposing.
- Marco Island City Council greenlights medical marijuana dispensaries. Marco Eagle, 6/19/19
Months later, Marco Island received its first application, although the facility has not opened to-date.
- Marco Island receives first building permit application for a medical marijuana dispensary. Marco Eagle, 10/28/19
As a result of the commitment and perseverance of a group of Marco Island citizens, it is up to the voters to decide whether or not to allow recreational marijuana to be sold on the Island.