Longtime Miami civil rights leader T. Willard Fair had been hearing stories about the casual use of marijuana among youth in Liberty City. Then, on a visit to Liberty Square, he witnessed the trend: adults and teens smoking openly.
“I was in a meeting with staff about our tutorial program and I was shocked to learn there were children below the high school level using marijuana. And then I was out on the weekend at Liberty Square and I noticed no shame or embarrassment as people were smoking on the porch or in their backyard, some in the presence of children,’’ said Fair, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami. “This said to me, it’s time to have a meeting in our community to begin talking about marijuana, good or bad.’’
So on Saturday, a month after the Florida Legislature failed to consider a bill legalizing marijuana for medical use, the Urban League of Greater Miami will lead a marijuana summit at the Joseph Caleb Center. Police, government, health experts and the public will participate in a conversation about the broad social, economic, legal and health implications of legalizing the drug, particularly in inner-city neighborhoods.
The keynote speaker will be Calvina Fay, executive director of Drug Free America Foundation and Save Our Society From Drugs. An outspoken advocate against the legalization of drugs, Fay has also served as an advisor on drug policies to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Other speakers include representatives from the Miami-Dade Schools Police, Miami-Dade Drug Court, the City of Miami, Miami-Dade Police, Miami-Dade Juvenile Services Department and the Miami Behavioral Health Center. Collectively, they will help to shape the picture of the use and sale of marijuana in the community now along with the impact of legalization. In 2012, nearly 1,000 juveniles faced marijuana-related charges including possession, sales and distribution, representing a 20 percent decrease from 2011, according to the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department.
The summit comes as states across the country are debating the legalization of marijuana and public support is growing.
The Florida Legislature failed to consider a bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in this year’s session. In November, Colorado and Washington approved measures to legalize recreational use for adults. Also last fall, Massachusetts became the 18th state to allow it for medical use.
For Saturday’s summit, Fair said a cross section of community groups have been invited as well as youth representatives.
“Clearly this is a hot topic and the issue will be coming back. We want to hear from many voices in the community,’’ he said. “We don’t know what the next step is but we need to have these conversations now.’’