The Marco Island City Council voted unanimously Tuesday 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.

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.

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

Marco Island is not the only city in U.S. attempting to prohibit recreational marijuana. 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 legal weed was heading to the polls.

Florida Supreme Court will hold a hearing May 6 on a recreational marijuana proposal that could go on the 2022 ballot. 

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.

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. 

The state Senate last month filed a brief saying a new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis bolsters arguments the Supreme Court should block the ballot proposal because it conflicts with federal laws that make marijuana illegal.

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.

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:

Additional reporting by journalists Grace Hauck and Mike Davis from the USA TODAY NETWORK and Jim Saunders from News Service of Florida.

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.

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