Miami is a city of complainers. Everyone here loves to say things suck, but nobody likes doing anything about it. Even when our city starts creeping in the right direction, our collective apathy quickly gets in the way.
But you know what really grinds my gears? Those who complain about Florida's strict drug laws -- especially those that penalize marijuana users. Hey, Miami, if you want things to change, you're going to have to get off your Brazilian-butt-lifted ass and do something about it.
We spoke to Square Grouper filmmakers, pot bloggers, and Westword's weed critic (yes, this actually exists) about the reasons behind Miami's tepid cannabis culture.
Miami Has Too Many Transients
"There is a general apathy," says Alfred Spellman, Rakontur film producer of Cocaine Cowboys and the newly released Square Grouper, which delves into Miami's pot history.
"My partner Billy [Corben] always jokes saying, 'Everyone says Miami is a melting pot, but it's really not. It's more like a a TV dinner, with everyone segregated into their neighborhoods.' Sometimes there is a little spillover, but for the most part everyone has their own interests and agendas. Nobody has an institutional roots or legacy here in Miami, so that makes it very difficult for there to be political activism, because there is little care for what happens in this community."
It's true. Miami is a city of transients, with people moving in and out of the city all the time. But there are people who come into the city that are trying to push for change.
For instance, Sensible Florida's Eric Stevens, a Massachusetts-native studying at the University of Miami. We profiled Stevens' attempt to collect signatures to decriminalize pot in Miami Beach back in October.
If you are going attempt marijuana reform, what better place to start than an ultra-progressive city like Miami Beach, right? Wrong. Too many tourists and transients. "A lot of people who move down to Miami Beach don't take the time to register to vote, whether from another part of Florida, state, country, or coming here for school," Stevens explains.
Wacky Florida Petition Rules
Getting laws changed at the state level is even more daunting. In Florida you need 10 percent of register voters to sign to petition to get it on the state ballot. In Stevens' home state of Massachusetts the requirement is 3 percent.
"Not only is there that percentage difference, but in Florida are 15 million people, compared to Massachusetts 6.5 million. So to get an issue on the ballot you need like 750,000 signatures." That's perhaps why Sensible Florida's task is to change marijuana laws at a local level before moving on to the state.
The Role of Civil Disobedience (Smoke-Outs)
But activism goes beyond getting laws changed. Active protesting or civil disobedience can also help marijuana reform.
"There's room in the marijuana law reform movement for both kinds of activism," says Toke of the Town blogger, Steve Elliot. "If activists are committed enough and are ready to be arrested and possibly serve time in jail, I have no argument with nonviolent civil disobedience of the pot laws. I've done plenty of it myself."
However, Elliot believes activism does need to include grassroots efforts by organizations like Sensible Florida. "It's also crucially important to use established channels through the legislature and congress to change the laws, at the same time as we are raising conscious about their futility and ridiculousness."
Westword pot critic William Breathes agrees. "I'm of the opinion that opening conversations up with public officials and using those channels is the way to go. That said, I think a big 4/20 smoke-out and civilly disobeying laws is also important. It shows as community we will rally together and show are numbers. And if get these big events and bring in speakers, as they grow and become more respected, like the 4/20 rally here [in Denver] goes from being oh, the potheads are getting together today to something that people actually pay attention to."
However, Breathes thinks Miami has one thing to overcome: its history of drug smuggling. "There no positive association with cannabis when it comes to Miami. It has been always associated with drug smuggling."
Breathes adds, "While I think you guys have [a cannabis] culture, it hasn't moved in the direction where it has in the rest of the country where we are past that and move onto more legitimate use of cannabis and not something that was smuggled into our borders."
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And he's right. Miami -- and Florida, in general, really -- can't seem to get over its past and move on and push for reform.
So if you are ready to stop complaining and ready to do something, Stevens says Sensible Florida is always looking for volunteers.