Up in Tallahassee, state legislators are doing everything they can to undermine medical marijuana in Florida. Voters backed medical pot by more than 70 percent in November, and yet lawmakers responded by inviting the same guy who spent millions trying to defeat the measure to help write the new rules.
But despite all those statehouse shenanigans, medical pot dispensaries are finally a reality in Miami-Dade. Miami's first legal storefront dispensary opened last week near the airport, and across the bay, commissioners will vote Wednesday on where three dispensaries could open in Miami Beach.
"We have been delivering to the Miami area since July, but we're very excited to have a brick-and-mortar storefront so patients can avoid delivery fees," says Kim Rivers, a spokesperson for Trulieve, the North Florida-based firm behind Miami's first dispensary.
For now, the Trulieve dispensary is operating under rules passed between 2014-15, allowing low-THC products for a limited number of ailments and full marijuana products for terminally ill patients. The shop has a variety of marijuana-based medicines — from vaporizers to pills to tinctures — for qualifying patients.
The Trulieve location won't be Miami-Dade's only pot-slinging storefront for long. After months of dragging its feet and de-facto banning medical pot, Miami Beach will finally vote Wednesday on where dispensaries can operate on the island.
There are three licenses up for grabs on the Beach, and commissioners have to decide where those businesses will be zoned to operate. They're considering a pair of locations each in South Beach, Mid-Beach and North Beach, and will have to pick one spot in each part of the city.
Picking the locations will certainly be a contentious issue on the Beach, where legal medical marijuana has so far been treated as just slightly less dangerous than black tar heroin. Critics have blasted the commission for repeatedly delaying votes, and accused Commissioner Ricky Arriola of riling up "not in my backyard" sentiments among older residents.
Indeed, one of the proposed locations will likely run into the same concerns — among the South Beach options is one zone that would extend from West Avenue along Fifth Street to Ocean Court. That eastern edge is just one block off Ocean Drive, the scene of the Beach's most passionate infighting over zoning and unruly crowds.
"That sounds like a bad idea, but I haven't studied it in great detail yet," says Mitch Novick, owner of the Sherbrooke Hotel and one of the loudest voices against Ocean Drive's raucous party scene.
Whenever the Beach does get its act together, competition will be stiff for its three available licenses.
"We would love to be in Miami Beach as well," Rivers says. "We're looking at multiple locations all over South Florida."