In September 2019, Melissa Villar filed to run for Leon County Commissioner At Large, Group 1. She is joined in the race by Jeff Hendry, Scott Flowers, Danielle Irwin, Kelly Otte, Robin Colson, and Carolyn Cummings. Incumbent Mary Ann Lindley is retiring.
Villar currently serves as Executive Director of NORML Tallahassee, a marijuana reform organization, and President of the Holistic Cannabis Community, Inc. She is also a regional and volunteer coordinator for Regulate Florida, a marijuana regulation campaign, and she has worked for the Florida House of Representatives. She earned her master’s degree in Public Administration from Florida State University’s Askew School and her bachelor’s degree in Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Main focuses of Villar’s campaign are marijuana reform and socioeconomic inequality.
What motivated you to run for local office?
“My motivation to run for local office began with cannabis reform across the country. Positive changes made by constitutional referendums to legalize marijuana for personal use were received with hindrance by local governments. Local jurisdictions across the country and in Florida who have attempted to prohibit or place moratoriums on medical and personal use cannabis stores have had an increase in opioid overdose deaths and an increase in methamphetamine and heroin use.
Election Day 2014, at the Florida Capitol I witnessed a handful of committed individuals from the Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Florida State University (FSU) advocate and hold signs in support of the constitutional amendment for medical marijuana. As a lifetime cannabis supporter, I felt I had to do something to speak up for the cannabis community. In 2015, I resigned from the Florida House of Representatives as committee staff. It was apparent in my line of duty that the individuals I worked with and for did not have the same agenda to end cannabis prohibition and introduce use of the whole plant for personal and medical use. In 2016, I formed the nonprofit organization The Holistic Cannabis Community and later formed the NORML Tallahassee Chapter. The first Tallahassee chapter (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) formed in 1970. However, in 2014 there was not a solid voice for reformation in North Florida or the Capital City. I felt my experience in the legislative process and my abilities as an analyst and researcher to provide facts would assist to dispel disinformation and misinformation brought forth by opponents.
One of the main things I noticed as committee staff and viewing local meetings is that the cannabis supporters were absent from criminal justice discussions. Substance abuse and mental health providers [that collect fees based on the number of enrollees referred by the Courts] were at the forefront of the discussions particularly in local governments across Florida. This inequitable approach to cannabis reform I did not agree with. Residents required a voice and advocate to speak for them since many had first-hand experience with the ramifications of prohibition. Individuals were concerned to appear or speak at meetings. I am happy and honored to fill that void. My proactive approach to open the dialogue at the city and county level has led to the halt of arrests in our area for cannabis possession, the dismantling of the Adult Civil Citation Program which had major disparities [based on ability to pay the fee] as noted by Jack Campbell State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit in April 2017. I exposed FSU for refusing to participate in the program even though Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University and Tallahassee Community College administration allowed their law enforcement entities to participate. My input at the state level ensures hemp cultivators’ treatment is fair and equitable and not subject to exorbitant fees associated with the medical marijuana program. I have rallied residents to oppose THC limits for medical marijuana and draft legislation relevant to my specialty area. Since 2016, I have been setting up at festivals and community events to advocate and educate the public about the need to change laws for both hemp and marijuana [and Regional and Volunteer Coordinator for the Sensible Florida campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol]. I am grateful and thankful for the community partnerships I have built and for the respect and support I have earned from residents ever since.”
What unique perspective would you bring to the position?
“My perspective is unique because as a Leon County resident my diverse background is essential to understand the socio-economic disparities that exist in our community. I grew up in a military town in Texas and my parents worked on a military base, my children went to daycare on the military base, and still visit the various bases when in Texas. Since moving to Tallahassee in 2004 I have held positions at Gretchen Everhart School for disabled children, been an independent distributor for an affiliate of Scholastic Books [which enabled me to learn the geography of the Panhandle and to establish working relationships with community members] and return to higher education studies. I understand the difficulties and challenges individuals, families and seniors face to afford housing and utilities on fixed and limited incomes. I have overcome trauma-related experiences and seen firsthand how opioid addiction affects children, veterans, and adults.
At forums and meetings, I am most notable and recognizable for asking the tough questions. For instance, at a function I asked Mayor John Dailey what the Leon County school expulsion rate is [he did not know]. The zero-tolerance policies in our schools may be the cause of our increased teenage crime rate. At another function, I asked experts about their knowledge of hemp phytoremediation to improve environmental land and water conditions. They were not familiar with the issue. These important issues are a few of the agenda areas I will focus on to improve living conditions in the community. As a member of the Tallahassee Community Action Network (TCAC), we have been successful at encouraging Leon County Commissioners to reassess the hours of operation with the hopes to reopen branches closed on Mondays so K-12 students have a safe place to go all week afterschool that has air-condition and access to books, computers and the internet for their studies. TCAC is also most notable for the work on social inequities and work to end conversion therapy an unconscionable practice that traumatizes children in the LGBTQ community and for bringing to light the historical racism and nepotism the Capital City has established. In addition, I contributed heavily to the data behind the rings targeting our teens for sexual exploitation. My nonprofit organizations also contribute to other local nonprofits to assist the homeless and provide books, clothes, and toys to children during the holidays.”
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Leon County?
“Leon County faces challenges due to the economic and social inequalities that are deeply rooted in our community, and now the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.”
What is your plan to address these challenges?
“I feel with the appropriate economic and educational opportunities, equal access and equal justice, and inclusive policies and programs we can accomplish significant positive changes in the community. I am committed as a mother, grandmother, wife, neighbor and resident of Leon County to improve the health and well-being and quality of life for all.”
Responsibilities of the County Commissioner position include making policies and setting budgets. The position has a four-year term length and an annual salary of $80,289.00. The election date is August 18.