Miami Beach

Miami Beach passes four-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries

An employee shows the fully grown flower of a marijuana plant at Surterra Therapeutics’ facility on the outskirts of Tallahassee. The Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Amendment 2, was approved by Florida voters Tuesday.
An employee shows the fully grown flower of a marijuana plant at Surterra Therapeutics’ facility on the outskirts of Tallahassee. The Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Amendment 2, was approved by Florida voters Tuesday. AP File

The morning after 71 percent of Florida voters approved the use of medical marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions, Miami Beach passed a four-month ban on the opening of marijuana dispensaries.

Commissioners voted 5-1 Wednesday to start a moratorium, with Commissioner Michael Grieco opposing it. Commissioner Rick Arriola, who sponsored the ordinance, said the measure is meant to give the city time to create regulations for where the dispensaries can be located. Mayor Philip Levine was absent.

Grieco said he was concerned that the commission might be ignoring the will of a majority of Miami Beach voters by creating a moratorium longer than the one already built into the passage of Amendment 2, which is 60 days.

That 60-day window is supposed to allow the state Legislature to pass any relevant laws for implementation and the Florida Department of Health to create rules for dispensaries related to licensing, security and other issues.

While arguing that the city should hustle to develop its own zoning regulations within the 60-day window, Grieco pointed to existing regulations on low-THC cannabis for cancer patients as an indication of what the state will do in the next few months.

“We know where they’re going to go,” he said. “We can get a draft legislation in place so when they’re ready to go, we can press play.”

Arriola proposed the moratorium in the wake of discussions with Ocean Drive business owners as he brokered a plan for revamping the popular tourist attraction. On Wednesday, he said he wants to move fast but wants to pass sensible legislation to make sure residents and businesses aren’t complaining about neighboring dispensaries later.

“I voted in favor of this myself,” he said. “I don’t want to go against the will of the people. It’s just that government moves slow.”

Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates, whose previous position as the top cop in Aurora, Colorado, at a time when medical and recreational marijuana were legalized, advised commissioners that planning for the opening of medical marijuana businesses can take time.

“In the community where I worked in Colorado, all of this evolved and all of this was debated and discussed over years,” Oates said.

After passing the moratorium, the commission unanimously voted to fast-track the development of local zoning regulations in an effort to work within the state’s 60-day rule-making period. City planners are expected to present draft legislation next week to the commission’s land use committee.

In other business, the commission approved a prohibition on alcohol sales at retail stores before 10 a.m. It extends the ban, which currently runs from midnight to 8 a.m., another two hours in an attempt to reduce the number of homeless who get drunk early in the morning. Commissioners agreed to revisit the issue in six months to examine its impact.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

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