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Miami Beach Sets Straw Vote For Medical Marijuana In November

Reefer common sense is taking over Miami Beach. When voters go to the polls in November to elect a new mayor, they will also get the chance to answer a non-binding straw ballot question on whether the city commission should adopt a resolution urging the federal government and the Florida Legislature to decriminalize and approve the medicinal use of marijuana in the Sunshine State.

The Miami Beach City Commission quietly approved the straw ballot language in July as a compromise with a pro-pot organization that had collected more than 8,000 signatures from voters in support of a measure to remove criminal penalties for anyone caught with small amounts of weed.

"There was a a ton of work, time, and effort that was put into Miami Beach, and something needed to happen with relation to its marijuana policy," says Eric Stevens, one of the organizers behind Sensible Florida, the group that collected the signatures. "It may not be 100 percent of what we were asking for, but it is a great start, and it will give everyone who cares about this issue in Miami Beach a feel for what the electorate wants done regarding marijuana."

The Miami Beach straw ballot question comes at a time when it seems the medical marijuana movement in Florida is gaining momentum. On Thursday, People United for Medical Marijuana, or PUFMM, announced they had collected 110,000 signatures to get a proposed medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the 2014 statewide ballot -- enough to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of the initiative's language. The group needs to collect a total of 683,149 verified voter signatures needed by Feb. 1 to get the measure on the 2014 November ballot. If it does, then 60 percent of Florida voters would need approve the amendment in order for it to be adopted.

Currently 20 states in the union have legalized medical marijuana in some form. Washington and Colorado became the first states to outright legalize pot for recreational use. However, the federal government continues to enforce marijuana prohibition laws in states that have legalized weed.

The Miami Beach petition drive began in 2010, seeking to stop arresting individuals for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Instead, pot smokers would get hit with civil fines. Several states and cities around the country have passed similar local laws. With support from Miami Beach documentary film production company Rakontur, and real estate developer Todd Glaser, Sensible Florida's volunteers collected more than 8,000 signatures. But Sensible Florida had to sue the city because Miami Beach officials kept delaying putting the measure on a ballot. Stevens says the city attorney's office proposed the straw ballot as a compromise.

On July 19, the city commission approved the ballot language with Mayor Matti Bower being the only dissenting vote.

Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.