Children sleeping on the streets. Strained police, fire-rescue, and emergency medical services. An increase in homelessness, robberies, and crime.
A resolution from Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman paints a bleak picture of the potential pitfalls of medical marijuana, which was legalized in Florida with support from 71 percent of voters last November. It cites news stories about marijuana contaminated with pesticides, mold, fungi, and bacteria, and about increased emergency and poison control visits from children who consumed edibles.
But Heyman says she's not trying to scaremonger: She simply wants Florida to be prepared.
“All these have been situations that other governments have had to deal with,” she tells New Times. “I’d like to get in front of all of it and put it out there.”
In fact, Heyman — who sponsored a 2015 ordinance decriminalizing marijuana possession — says she's a big supporter of medical marijuana. “If you could help ease the pain of something that is terminal or process through the treatment of chemotherapy and radiation and make it easier for people to get by in such an onerous situation, that is the purpose of it,” she says.
So why file nearly ten pages' worth of scary statistics about recreational marijuana in Colorado and elsewhere? Her report cites homelessness increasing in Colorado by 6 percent even as it decreased 2 percent nationwide, extra demands on Pueblo, Colorado, homeless services leading to families sleeping outside, as well as the robbery of a marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. (It’s worth noting that both states have legalized marijuana entirely, unlike Florida.)
Heyman says she simply wants Florida to learn from what’s happened elsewhere. As chair of the National Association of Counties’ Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee, she’s compiled that information while talking to other municipalities.
In fact, unlike Miami Beach legislators, Heyman isn't calling for a moratorium on dispensaries in the county. Her resolution instead calls for legislators to enact some specific regulations while implementing medical marijuana.
Filmmaker Billy Corben has waged a Twitter war against Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola. Corben dubbed him “Reefer Madness Ricky” because the commissioner sponsored a dispensary moratorium after emailing activists and a city committee member warnings about medical weed being easily accessible.
Corben says Heyman's resolution is tinged with hysteria.
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“It’s more than an ounce of Reefer Madness hysteria when you have a county that’s being confronted with far worse and more dangerous issues impacting children,” he says. “I mean, children are getting shot; you have open-air crack sales on Ocean Drive at 9 in the morning — a lot of very serious issues related to public safety and particularly children.”
But Heyman's demands in the resolution, which the county commission is set to review Tuesday, are mostly a “pretty reasonable and common-sense approach,” Corben says.
Heyman recommends that the state Legislature require childproofing and appropriate labeling, impose security requirements, ensure operators are thoroughly vetted, avoid preempting local governments from setting regulations, devote resources to human and social services, and make sure harmful pesticides are not used.
“I think on anything you do, you want responsibility, and if you can learn from someone else, it has its purpose," Heyman says. "I think it will be good when it’s properly used by those who really need to ease their suffering.”