Miami Officials Aren't Even Planning for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in the City

Photo by Katheirne Hitt / Flickr
Update 5 p.m.: Sean Spicer, President Trump's press secretary, said today he anticipates a crackdown on recreational marijuana in places like Colorado and Washington under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But he also said he doesn't anticipate Trump's administration trying to change medical marijuana laws.

In November, Floridians overwhelmingly voted to legalize medical marijuana. Seventy-one percent of voters backed Amendment 2, requiring the Legislature to make rules by July 3. By September, medical pot is supposed to be available statewide.

But try telling that to the City of Miami. Nearly four months after the election, officials in the Magic City are still debating whether medical marijuana is even legal.

That curious position became clear during a Planning and Zoning Appeals Board meeting last week, when board member (and Gramps owner) Adam Gersten said the city should be prepared to regulate where dispensaries can be located. He suggested zoning staff look at best practices across the nation and figure out which approach would work best in Miami. Medical marijuana could soon add a huge amount of revenue to the city, he noted.

Gersten wasn't prepared for the response from a city official on the board.

"I know there's still some ongoing debate within the city, although the state allows it, that it's not allowed by the federal government," said Jacqueline Ellis, acting chief of land development. She later added, "I want to stay away from getting too deep into the weeds, because like I said, there is still some debate within the city about whether or not these uses are actually allowed in the city."

Medical marijuana advocates such as filmmaker Billy Corben say they are flabbergasted by that stance. Months after Amendment 2 overwhelmingly passed, Miami officials are still arguing about whether medical marijuana is legal. Corben points out it is now enshrined in the state constitution whether city officials like it or not.

"The debate that they are having internally, it ended unequivocally three months ago at the ballot box," Corben says. "It's over."

Yes, technically all marijuana is still federally prohibited. But, as Gersten noted in the meeting, 28 states have legalized either medical or recreational marijuana and have operated without any problems from the feds. Gersten said it would be irresponsible for the second-largest city in Florida to do nothing to prepare for state legislation on medical pot.

"It certainly seems that based on November's vote, there isn't that much debate left," he said. "But let's say there is... Honestly, the amount of money — just purely based on that, let's say — that would be left on the table, each month that goes by that we're behind and other municipalities aren't, is so significant that it would be almost irresponsible to not do something about it now," Gersten said.

Ultimately, Ellis agreed to report back to the board May 17 with a general overview of best practices for dispensary locations.