Miami Beach

Miami Beach: Don’t smoke pot on public property, even if it’s legal medical marijuana

People smoking pot in public in Miami Beach have to put out their joints or they could be arrested, even if they’re smoking legal medical marijuana, Miami Beach commissioners agreed.

Commissioners voted 6-0 Wednesday night to treat smoking pot on public property — like sidewalks, beaches and parks — on the same level as an open container violation. The approval was tentative and has to be taken to a second vote in October before becoming law.

Police would be able to approach someone smoking pot and ask that person to put it out. If violators refuse, they could be arrested and face up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Commissioner Micky Steinberg did not vote because she left Wednesday’s commission meeting early.

Mayor Dan Gelber proposed the law because he wants to enforce a restriction already written into state law, but the law doesn’t provide a penalty for smoking legal, medical marijuana in public. Local authorities elsewhere have not devised a way to prosecute illegal marijuana possession.

“It’s not like we’re running around arresting people who are smoking marijuana,” Gelber said. “You generally ask them to put it out, and if they don’t, they’re sort of choosing to be arrested at that point.”

The commission’s law would apply to any kind of marijuana, cannabis or hemp on public property. The plan stems from the recent announcement from Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle that the county would no longer prosecute minor marijuana cases. That decision was the result of a new Florida law that legalized hemp, which is similar to marijuana but only has trace amounts of THC, the chemical that produces a high.

Fernandez Rundle said there is no way to distinguish between the smell of hemp and marijuana, which could create a gray area for enforcement in a state where recreational marijuana is illegal and hemp is legal.

Miami Beach is one of the few cities that has its own municipal prosecutor, and that person would handle cases of people smoking marijuana in public.

“I think it’s very reasonable, I think it’s fair, and it gives our officers the leeway to be able to address someone who may be smoking or consuming marijuana in public,” Richard Clements, the chief of the Miami Beach Police Department, said.

In a memo attached to the ordinance, City Attorney Raul Aguila wrote that the Beach wants to maintain a “pleasant and healthful atmosphere” for tourists and residents, which would require prohibiting pot smoke in public places.

For years, Beach voters have supported legalizing marijuana, but after a 2016 Florida constitutional amendment passed allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes, commissioners passed laws limiting the number of dispensaries on the island. Aguila wrote that the Beach seeks to balance the city’s pro-marijuana political leanings with the residents’ quality of life.

If commissioners give the ordinance final approval, it would also require that businesses that sell any marijuana, cannabis or hemp products display signs warning patrons that it is unlawful to smoke those products on public property. Businesses could face a $1,000 fine if the signs aren’t put up. Repeat offenses bump up the fine to $5,000 for the fourth violation in a 12-month period.

Although Commissioner Michael Góngora voted in favor of the ordinance Wednesday night, he expressed reservations about it. Before the second vote, he said he wanted to understand the difference between the city’s and the state’s laws and whether it would be easier to adopt certain portions of the state’s law rather than create a new one.

“I just don’t like creating a lot of new laws,” Góngora said.