Miami’s Baby Boomer Commissioners Are Against Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Although it has been six years since Florida legalized medical cannabis, Miami city commissioners still can’t seem get it through their heads that the state’s constitutional Amendment overrides the federal ban and allows only one dispensary to operate within the city limits.

For more than three years, the city has been entangled in a painfully slow-moving legal dispute with California entrepreneur Romie Chaudhari and his would-be Miami medical marijuana dispensary, which seeks to open in downtown’s Park West neighborhood near the nightclubs Space and E11even.

After Chaudhari was sided by a federal judge, he ruled that the City had been abandoned. “fail[ed] to act”The Florida law does not allow for the creation of an ordinance that regulates or prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries. It looked as though commissioners might finally grant the first medical marijuana dispensary in the city the certificate to use permit it requires.

The issue was on the commission’s agenda at its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday — a scant six days before tokers around the world celebrate the annual marijuana holiday known as 4/20.

Two senior-citizen commissioners seem to be stuck in the Reefer Madness era, so there won’t be any miracle with 4/20.

Joe Carollo implied that he beat his high school football rivals because they were smoking doobies at Thursday’s commission meeting, when he had proudly stated no to dope.

“Some of my friends — big boys, 6’4″, 250 [pounds] — would double-team me,” the 67-year-old Carollo reminisced from the dais. “You may wonder why I would knock these guys over the head. It wasn’t because of my strength.”

Manolo Reyes, who’s pushing 80, backed up his fellow fossil, railing at the ease of fraudulently obtaining medical marijuana and invoking the “children.”

“I have seen these certificates that you can find on-line. You can buy it online.” said Reyes, ostensibly referring to phony medical marijuana cards. “They even make gummies that can be eaten by children.”

Though the discussion veered off-topic, the commission’s task at hand was to determine whether to grant the city zoning director’s appeal to reverse the Planning and Zoning Appeals Board’s (PZAB’s) decision that Chaudhari should be allowed to open the city’s first medical marijuana dispensary. While the PZAB followed Florida state law — which allows medical marijuana dispensaries and requires municipalities to pass their own laws if they intend to ban or regulate them — City Attorney Victoria Mendez had previously cited marijuana’s listing as a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act as justification for denying Chaudhari’s dispensary.

Even though there hasn’t been a single raid nor any federal interference reported at any of the 57 medical marijuana dispensaries in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the zoning director sided with Mendez, appealed PZAB’s determination, and, ultimately left it up to the commission to finally decide if medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed inside the city limits.

Though studies suggest that marijuana use among Americans aged 65 years and older has increased by 75 percent to treat arthritis, cancer, and chronic pain, Carollo is against allowing Chaudhari’s dispensary to open and made it clear he would side with the zoning office, referring to the PZAB appeal as the “Cheech & Chong ordinance.” (For the record, Cheech Marin is 75 and Tommy Chong will turn 84 in May.)

“As an individual, I am only concerned about people driving out there.” Carollo said. “You don’t know who someone is when they get behind the wheel.”

Reyes concurred.

“My position on dispensaries has not changed: If it’s treated as medicine it must go through the same procedure and be dispensed through pharmacies that have doctors and prescriptions.” he proclaimed. “We now have a free-for all.”

Under Florida law, an eligible patient suffering from specific, outlined conditions must be prescribed a medical marijuana card by a doctor or licensed medical marijuana treatment center before they can purchase cannabis from a medical marijuana treatment center registered with the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Gen X commissioners Ken Russell and Christine King, meanwhile, have been vocal proponents of medical marijuana. The former plans to draft an ordinance to regulate dispensaries, and the latter argued that the city is behind the times on cannabis.

“This is where we are wrong.” King said. “In many states, medical marijuana is now legal. It’s going to happen sooner than you think. The federal government will legalize medical marijuana sooner than expected. I think medical marijuana, in its proper use, will be a benefit.”

(Once again in the interest of setting the record straight, medical marijuana is legal in 37 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia, while 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted laws legalizing recreational use.)

The swing vote on the five-member commissioner fell to Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who was born in 1964, on the cusp separating baby boomers from Generation X.

Perhaps fittingly, he took a decidedly middle-ground approach, and deferred the item to the first commission meeting in May.

“I want to have a discussion and reach a compromise where there are some dispensaries, so that people who truly need it, with a real medical prescription, can access the medicine they desire, but not a proliferation of dispensaries in the city.” he explained.

Commissioners then voted unanimously to delay the vote on the PZAB appeal to May 12, and in the interim agreed to come up with ways to regulate the number of dispensaries.

While the deferral kicks the proverbial can down the road — a can that has been kicked down the road for more than three years now — Russell came away with the sense that the meeting was productive.

“It was a great day. This was the first time that this was discussed on the dais.” the commissioner tells New Times. “It is clear that the majority supports medical marijuana. As long as the majority vote is in favor of medical marijuana, dispensaries can be legalized.

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