Miami Beach Considers Yet Another Six-Month Medical Marijuana Ban UPDATED

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On July 26, the Miami Beach City Commission will vote on whether to allow three dispensaries within city limits. But if a new ordinance Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán is sponsoring passes, it could be another six months before any dispensaries are actually allowed on the beach. Alemán is suggesting the city adopt yet another six-month moratorium on the acceptance or issuance of any new permits for medical cannabis dispensaries on the island.

The City of Miami Beach has taken out an ad in the Miami Herald notifying the public that the measure will be read and voted on at the Miami Beach Commission's June 28 meeting.

The new bill comes after fellow City Commissioner Ricky Arriola proposed multiple weed-dispensary moratoriums beginning in November — after he initially pitched a six-month ban that month, the city commission chopped it down to four. A follow-up request to extend the ordinance for another two months was ultimately shot down.

Later, a public-records request revealed that Arriola was emailing local businesses to try to scare them away from supporting medical marijuana. The tactic led local documentary filmmaker and rabble-rouser Billy Corben to label Arriola "Reefer Madness Ricky."

It bears repeating that 71 percent of Floridians voted this past November to legalize medical marijuana. In Miami Beach, that number was actually higher: A full 80 percent of the city's voters said they wanted access to medicinal weed for ailments such as cancer and AIDS. That's a higher percentage than the number of voters who supported any of the Beach's current commissioners. Medical pot is much more popular in Miami Beach than Ricky Arriola or John Alemán.

But despite that fact, Arriola and Alemán have long claimed the city needs "time" to work out where it can legally allow medical dispensaries within city limits. In November, the Beach passed a four-month moratorium, which Arriola sponsored. In January, he asked to extend that ban for another two months, until May 17, but that extension was voted down 4-3 at its second reading February 8.

"If this is approved, this is the last time I'm going to ask for an extension," Arriola said from the dais at that meeting.

Before calling the vote, he complained about how long the city takes to make basic decisions — but it's now mid-June and Miami Beach still can't figure out if it agrees with its residents.

In April, the city commission debated allowing three medical pot dispensaries on the barrier island — but that law was deferred multiple times, until June 7, when the commission passed the move 6-1. (Joy Malakoff was the only dissenting commissioner.)

Alemán's latest attempt to delay medical weed comes as the Beach debates how to handle what the city claims is a growing crime and PR problem. City commissioners and some residents claim crime is out of control in Miami Beach (even though stats from multiple sources show crime has actually fallen every year since 2013), and some city officials appear to be terrified that medical pot dispensaries — which, again, provide relief for people with illnesses such as PTSD — will somehow turn the city into a crime-ridden nightmare. That hasn't happened on the mainland since the City of Miami's first dispensary, TruLieve, opened earlier this year.

But Arriola and Alemán are far from the only Florida politicians who refuse to let voters get what they want: Throughout the state's 60-day legislative session, Tallahassee was unable to pass the marijuana rules it was legally required to pass.

This past June 9, lawmakers finally passed pot rules in a special session, but they banned smokable marijuana, the easiest and cheapest way for many patients to seek relief.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola as a cosponsor of the ordinance. Its sole sponsor is Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán.

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