Resolution asserting County Commission’s desire to craft its own regulations on recreational marijuana use — if drug becomes legal in state — wins approval on 4-1 vote

Commissioner Detert argues that state lawmakers generally ignore resolutions

Canmabis sativa is one variety of marijuana. Photo by Michael de Benutzer via Wikimedia Commons

Over the past couple of years, with each vote of approval for a new medical marijuana dispensary in Sarasota County, commissioners voiced growing concern about the potential that those operations could “flip” to recreational marijuana sales.

The board members have pointed to the potential for a state law or a constitutional amendment to make that a likelihood.

Last year, commissioners agreed that they should take whatever steps feasible to try to keep recreational marijuana sales from becoming a reality in Sarasota County.

To that end, the board members voted 4-1 on Feb. 9 to adopt a resolution that they had directed the Office of the County Attorney to draft.

However, railing against newspaper articles that made it appear they were entertaining a regulation calling for the county to “opt out” of recreational marijuana sales, Chair Alan Maio pointed to the title of the resolution. It says the board is “requesting that the Florida Legislature preserve local government home rule power by withholding preemption of local government authority to regulate recreational marijuana.”

Commissioner Christian Ziegler was the first board member during the Feb. 9 meeting to clarify that the resolution “is not for or against recreational marijuana,” stressing that no state action has yet to take place on the issue of legalizing marijuana for any purpose except medicinal use.

“All we’re stating in this resolution … is that we’re expressing our desire to make the decision on behalf of Sarasota County. Is that [a] fair [summary]?” Ziegler asked County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht.

“That’s correct,” Elbrecht replied.

“The last thing that I think America needs right now is people sitting at home, smoking dope and making TikTok videos,” Commissioner Michael Moran added. “I’m not going to have my fingerprints on anything that brings about recreational marijuana in this county. … I’ve made my thoughts clear on this in the past.”

During each public hearing on a proposed medical marijuana dispensary, Moran failed to elicit a promise from the applicant that the firm would never sell recreational marijuana.

However, Commissioner Nancy Detert — a former member of both the Florida House and Senate — made it clear, as well, that she could not support the resolution. “I really don’t support resolutions of any sort,” she said. If the board members approved the one in front of them, she added, “It’s going in somebody’s round file in Tallahassee the minute they receive it.”

The commissioners also get resolutions from a variety of entities, Detert indicated. “And what do we do with them? Very little.”

Ziegler, Moran and Maio maintained that the focus of the resolution is their desire for the County Commission to maintain “home rule.” The phrase refers to the state’s allowing local government boards to handle certain issues as the latter see fit in their jurisdictions, instead of having to follow the Florida Legislature’s lead.

Nonetheless, Detert said, the resolution makes it plain that the issue in this case is the potential legalization of recreational marijuana.

One of the “whereas” clauses in the document says, “[T]he Board of County Commissioners is concerned about an additional amendment to the Florida Constitution or the Florida Statues that may provide for recreational use of marijuana.”

This is the resolution the commissioners approved on Feb. 9. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“We are already 100% on the record for local control,” Detert emphasized to her colleagues. “We are always against anything where the state is to pe-empt the power of the County Commission because we’ve always felt that the elected officials closest to the people should make local decisions. We fight any pre-emption bill through our Florida Association of Counties.”

Then Detert pointed out, “Eventually, the people will get to vote as to whether they want recreational marijuana or not, whether we like it or not. We implement what the people want.”

Further, she said, “If our community votes [for the legalization of recreational marijuana] — 70% [in favor], like they did with medical marijuana, then what are we going to do?”

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger countered Detert’s arguments: “We’re letting our [legislative] delegation know that we do want an opt-out clause by doing this. At least that’s what it seems to me.”

Based on comments he has received, Cutsinger said, county residents are confused about the proposed resolution. Some people believe the board members are trying to change the county’s stance on medical marijuana, he added. “This has nothing whatsoever to do with medical marijuana.”

Then Moran pointed out that county leaders have seen situations in which the county had regulations in place prior to the Legislature’s putting into effect laws governing those issues. One example he cited is the county’s ordinance on short-term vacation rentals.

Commissioner Michael Moran. File image

The county ordinances were “grandfathered in,” Moran continued, because the legislators agreed that state law should not pre-empt them.

“That was the original intent” with the commission’s asking the Office of the County Attorney to draft the resolution on recreational marijuana, Moran added. “This was a very soft version, with a resolution.”

The county’s medical marijuana ordinance is another example, County Attorney Elbrecht responded, in which state law allowed the existing local regulation to prevail.

“It’s a tough issue,” Ziegler pointed out of the potential legalization of recreational marijuana. “I don’t need [recreational marijuana] to be more accessible or easier for [my children] to get,” he added.

Still, Ziegler conceded the likelihood that state voters would end up supporting a constitutional amendment legalizing use of the drug.

Moran finally made the motion to approve the resolution, and Cutsinger seconded it.

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