Los Angeles investors can open up shop as Miami City ends years-long silent ban on medical marijuana providers
There are over 425 dispensaries spread across the state of Florida. Somehow, Miami has none.
That should change soon. Last week, a 3-2 vote from Miami City Commissioners granted a certificate of land use to Los Angeles investors. Investment group MRC44 now has plans to open the city’s first medical cannabis dispensary after years of delays.
The policy change will allow the LA group to start the permitting process required to open a new dispensary. Their location will be located downtown near Space and E11even nightclubs at 90 NE 11 Street, in the historic Overtown neighborhood.
City Attorney Victoria Mendéz blamed the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws for the lack of decision-making on the matter.
What took so long?
When the statewide referendum to legalize Florida’s medical marijuana industry went into effect in 2016, the city of Miami did not make a move to ban or regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.
But surrounding municipalities Coral Gables, Aventura, unincorporated Miami-Dade County, and South Miami all welcomed the opportunity to participate in Florida’s sprouting cannabis economy.
So MRC44 had to sue the city of Miami to get legal permission to open the dispensary.
Even though the city legislature failed to act for 5-plus years, a federal judge has ruled that granting the company a certificate of use was actually the commission’s responsibility.
Some Florida lawmakers still oppose cannabis
The discrepancy surrounding state and federal law was not the only point of contention for the state’s cannabis commission.
Commissioners Joe Carollo and Manolo Reyes voted against the measure. Their main concern was the lack of oversight. The regulators claim that loose enforcement will create a slippery slope that leads to illegal drug use, contaminated products, and child endangerment.
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Commissioner Reyes was appointed to serve as the Chair of the Downtown Development Authority in 2019. In his role, he assisted with the promotion and development of Downtown Miami.
“[Dispensaries] are going to be all over. Wherever you go, and they are permitted, you see people smoking pot in the streets,” Reyes said.
Carollo agreed with Reyes, further stating the commission needed to establish “extremely clear” guidelines before moving forward.
Commissioners Ken Russel, Alex Díaz de la Portilla, and Christine King argued that they had the authority to decide on the conflict between state and federal law.
“I believe that the position the city is taking is on the wrong side of this. It’s happening,” said Commissioner King. “It’s in the constitution that medical marijuana is permissible in the state of Florida.”
Commissioner Russel added: “Florida voters decided that it should be accessible in our state. However, because of the conflict between state and federal law; Our City Commission had to settle the dispute as to whether our residents would get that access,” Russel, a Democratic candidate for Congress told The Miami Herald.
There goes the neighborhood
Overtown, where the dispensary owners plan to open, is currently a hotbed for the opioid epidemic and illicit traffic. But residents also say a less visible force is also impacting their community.
“This section of Miami is on fire with gentrification efforts,” says Timothy Brown Jr., a resident of the City of Miami, cannabis entrepreneur, and the Membership Chair for Cannabis LAB.
“They’re calling it downtown, but it’s closer to Overtown,” Brown says of the changes he sees. “What was once the joke of the fentanyl epidemic will soon be the most expensive property in Miami.”
Brown believes that approving the dispensary will dramatically benefit the city, and sees it becoming ‘a bustling tourist attraction,’ and “a win-win for the city and the landowners.”
Once called ‘Colored Town’ during the Jim Crow era, Overtown was an esteemed center for Black culture and commerce throughout local history.
Brown, whose company employs former students from his coaching days at Booker T. Washington High School, is confident that bringing cannabis businesses to the area will spur positive change in the community. Just like it has in studies that show a link between cannabis use and decreased opioid, alcohol, and nicotine use.
“I believe with proper education, the negative stigma attached to cannabis can be overcome,’ Brown said.
Next up: Miami City’s commission will decide on an ordinance that would let them regulate dispensaries in the same way they regulate pharmacies.