Miami Beach

Miami Beach could allow three medical marijuana dispensaries under new zoning

City planners in Miami Beach believe three is the magic number for medical marijuana dispensaries on the island.

But with only three business licenses up for grabs under the proposal, the Beach’s administration already anticipates some stiff competition between distributors.

Officials have proposed three commercial areas in the three main sections of the city — South, Middle and North Beach — to allow retail locations where patients with recommendations from state-approved doctors can purchase medical cannabis. One such store opened Wednesday in Miami near the airport.

Commissioners will consider the zoning plan at an initial vote Wednesday.

Under the plan, South Beach could have a dispensary in a stretch of Fifth Street and three sections of Alton Road, including one patch at Dade Boulevard. In Middle Beach, a dispensary could go at either Mount Sinai Medical Center or at the intersection of Pine Tree Drive and 41st Street. In North Beach, the zoning would apply to a swath on the south side of 71st Street from Indian Creek Drive to Collins Avenue, and south on Collins to 69th Street.

Wherever they open, there would be limitations on signage and advertising, and the size of each establishment could not exceed 7,500 square feet. The law would prohibit marijuana being grown onsite.

Following the passage of a statewide constitutional amendment expanding Florida’s nascent medical marijuana program, the Beach instituted a citywide moratorium on dispensaries while city staff, commissioners and citizens on the planning board hashed out where to allow dispensaries to open. A memo notes that a preliminary analysis highlighted the difficulty of planning for dispensaries in tight quarters on the barrier island with virtually no large industrial zones.

“Initially, the administration looked at providing buffers around educational facilities, religious institutions, and parks, and this effectively zoned the use out of the city,” reads the memo.

“We had to go back to the drawing board,” said Commissioner Joy Malakoff, who chairs the city’s land use committee. The current proposed maps were drawn after several revisions that included removing religious institutions as barriers.

Besides the locations for these businesses, the Beach will have to figure out how to grant only three business licenses. City Hall is expecting demand to surpass supply, so it will weigh whether to grant licenses on a first-come, first-serve basis or create a process where an evaluation committee would review dispensary proposals and rank them. Then business licenses would be awarded in the order of the rankings.

“If we do a request for proposals versus the free market, how would one get selected?” said Commissioner Ricky Arriola.

Commissioners will likely discuss options next week.

Meanwhile, state-approved medical pot distributors are looking for expansion opportunities, particularly where local governments are creating approval processes that will mean less hassle for the business and patients. Trulieve opened its first dispensary in South Florida just east of Miami International Airport on Wednesday. Other firms queried by the Miami Herald, including Redland-based Modern Health Concepts and Winter Garden-based Knox Medical, said they were interested in venues across South Florida.

“We are hopeful a Knox Medical dispensary can open in Miami Beach and discussions are already under way with city policymakers,” said Adam Sharon, a spokesman for Knox.

According to county records, Trulieve and Modern Health Concepts recently received approval to seek building permits for new dispensaries in Miami-Dade. Modern Health Concepts has reserved a location south of Bird Road east of the Palmetto Expressway, and Trulieve has a space near the intersection of I-95 and Ives Dairy Road.

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech