Pot Initiatives Blaze Ahead in Miami Beach and Tallahassee

Reefer common sense might finally be on its way to the Sunshine State. Last week, both a statewide push for a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana and a local move in Miami Beach blazed a little closer to reality.

In Miami Beach, voters going to the polls in November to elect a new mayor will also get the chance to answer a nonbinding 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. On the statewide level, the effort to collect signatures for a vote on an amendment hit 100,000 and headed to the Supreme Court for a language review.

With polls showing that upward of 70 percent of Floridians back medical pot, activists say 2014 could be the year the state catches up with progressive weed havens like Washington state, California, and Colorado.

"There was 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."

The Miami Beach City Commission quietly approved the straw-ballot language in July after Stevens' group gathered more than 8,000 signatures from voters in support of a measure to remove criminal penalties for anyone caught with small amounts of weed.

The news on the local straw-ballot question comes the same week that People United for Medical Marijuana, or PUFMM, announced it had enough signatures to get a Supreme Court review.

If the group can collect at least 683,149 verified signatures by February 1, the amendment will go on the 2014 November ballot. Then 60 percent of Florida voters would need to approve the amendment 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 give pot smokers civil fines instead of criminal charges, a move that states and cities around the country have passed. 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.

Mayor Matti Bower was the only dissenting vote on July 19 as the commission passed the straw-ballot initiative.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.