Miami-Dade County

Two Miami-Dade cities support legalizing marijuana. But pot still has a long way to go

As the push to legalize recreational marijuana moves forward, local municipalities are showing their support.

So far, two South Florida cities — South Miami and Cutler Bay — have passed resolutions supporting legalization in the past few months. And while the resolutions can’t enact change within the cities, they add to growing support for adult-use pot in Florida: In June, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 65 percent of Florida voters want to see the drug legalized.

“Our attitudes change, our perceptions change, and I want us to remain progressive in our mentality,” said Cutler Bay Councilman Roger Coriat at the July Town Council meeting where the resolution was passed. Coriat, who sponsored the resolution, said legalization of a drug that is less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco is “long overdue.”

Behind Cutler Bay and South Miami’s resolutions is that legalization would have financial benefits for the city and state — when cannabis is legal, it can be taxed.

“There’s no reason for it to not be legal in Florida,” said South Miami Vice Mayor Walter Harris, who sponsored his city’s resolution. Harris is confident that marijuana use would not increase “one iota” if it were legal and would only benefit the state. Both cities supported legalization of medical marijuana.

A recent study by Pew Charitable Trust, however, revealed that while revenues flow in the beginning, they taper off a few years later. Because the marijuana market is so unpredictable, states should treat it like a nonrecurring source of cash, researchers said.

The cities also want to push legalization for decriminalization purposes. Though Miami-Dade announced last week that it would no longer prosecute minor pot cases, full legalization is necessary to stop people from “being arrested for nothing,” Harris said.

“We don’t tie up the courts, we don’t need to tie up law enforcement, we would need to tie up a prison with something as punitive as it has been,” said Cutler Bay Councilman Robert “B.J.” Duncan at the meeting. “I would be in support if it was regulated in the same manner that alcohol and tobacco is.”

South Miami was the first to pass the resolution in June. After it was listed on the Miami-Dade League of Cities Aug. 1 meeting agenda — making it visible to 34 localities across the county — Cutler Bay followed suit.

But to have recreational marijuana regulated the same way alcohol and tobacco are in Florida, the effort must jump through a few hoops. Getting a question on the 2020 ballot to ask voters whether to amend the state’s constitution to allow for recreational marijuana requires gathering thousands of petition signatures.

That effort has recently reached its first milestone: In late July, ballot organizers attained the 76,000 required signatures to trigger Supreme Court and financial review of the measure. If it passes through review, it would need nearly 10 times the number of signatures to get on the 2020 ballot.

Of the 83,846 signatures gained as of Friday, Aug. 16, 6,280 came from Miami-Dade County, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Regulate Florida, the organization championing the movement, “has plenty of work to do in Miami,” said Michael Minardi, a Tampa attorney who is the campaign manager for Regulate Florida.

“More communities and towns and law enforcement agents need to get on board with this,” he said. “This is something that directly impacts them and their ability to do their job.”

Standing in legalization’s way is Gov. Ron DeSantis, a strong opponent of legal recreational marijuana. He told Capitol News Service in June that adult-use pot wouldn’t be legalized on his watch.

But if enough signatures in favor of the measure are gathered, and other requirements are met, the ballot initiative would go to the voters.

Getting the needed public support has a price tag. Minardi estimates that getting the adult-use pot on the ballot will cost between $3 million and $5 million. Costs stem from the $2-per-petition processing cost to paying petitioning companies to get the signatures. DeSantis recently signed a new law hiking petitioning costs by imposing fines on signatures turned in after a certain period.

Orlando attorney John Morgan, who calls himself Florida’s “Pot Daddy,” bankrolled the push for legalization of medical marijuana, and last week tweeted his support of adult-use pot. He has not yet stated whether he will financially support the movement.

“I collected a million signatures twice to get on the ballot for medical marijuana in 2014 and 2016,” Morgan said. “I still have those names, I still have those signatures.”

Florida voters passed the medical marijuana ballot referendum in 2016, with about 70 percent of the voters approving the measure. The constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 2, required at least 60 percent approval from voters to be enacted.

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Supporters of Amendment 2 wave signs at passing traffic on the corner of Oakland Park Boulevard and Federal Hightway in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Amy Beth Bennett Sun Sentinel

Meanwhile, South Miami and Cutler Bay’s representatives hope their resolutions will help in a small way.

We wanted to get the word out,” Harris said. “You gotta start somewhere.”

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