SARASOTA — What seemed likely to pass in late August failed to gain muster with Sarasota County commissioners Wednesday.
By a 2-3 vote late Wednesday afternoon, commissioners failed to pass an initial finding that a proposed ordinance banning the sale, cultivation and processing of non-medical or recreational marijuana was consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan.
By failing to find the ordinance consistent, commissioners never proceeded to a vote on the proposed ordinance, which seemed likely to fail in any event based on comments from commissioners.
Only Commissioners Mike Moran and Alan Maio cast the two favorable votes, with commissioners Nancy Detert, Charles Hines and Paul Caragiulo voting in opposition.
“I’m disappointed that we’ve got such a flawed product before us today,” Detert said before the vote. “I have no choice today but to be a no vote.”
“I still think that there’s some things for us to think through,” Hines said. “I don’t want to vote on something that I don’t know the effect of.”
“What’s important to me is what’s the intent of what we’re trying to do,” Moran said earlier in the discussion. “I will do everything in my power to send a message that recreational marijuana is not welcome in Sarasota County.”
Moran was the driving force behind the proposed ban, arguing that the county needed to have something in place before Florida voters could potentially approve a constitutional amendment, likely in 2020, making recreational marijuana legal in the state.
At the time of the first public hearing Aug. 29, commissioners appeared likely to approve the ban based on their comments at the time.
But during the public testimony Wednesday, speaker after speaker pointed out flaws in the ordinance from legal, societal and medical perspectives. That testimony also revealed that the county’s medical marijuana ordinance is in conflict with a 2014 federal law that makes CBD oil legal.
Because of the definition in the medical marijuana ordinance, it became apparent that it makes the sale of CBD oil illegal, although the county is not enforcing that, Tom Polk, a county planner charged with being the point person on marijuana issues, told commissioners.
Polk said staff would be bringing the ordinance back to commissioners to consider an amendment.
Only two of the approximately 30 people who spoke to commissioners during the public hearing advocated for passage of the ordinance.
“I’m the parent of a child who’s in recovery,” Ellen Snelling said. “I saw the devastation in my own family. I applaud the county commission for looking at this and being proactive.”
Even if the ordinance had passed Wednesday, it’s not clear if it would have been constitutional if voters did make recreational marijuana legal in the state in the future.
“That’s all going to come down to the language of the constitutional amendment, what it allows, what it doesn’t allow,” County Attorney Steve DeMarsh told commissioners when asked that very question early in the discussion.
After the vote was taken, Detert took a moment to thank the audience.
“You did participate in a very democratic way,” Detert said.