The city of Miami has been sued by two firms seeking to open medical marijuana clinics, bringing the city’s position on federal law’s supersession of the Florida Constitution into question.
In 2016, Floridians voted on a referendum regarding the establishment of a medical marijuana marketplace, approving it and amending the state Constitution–yet, the Miami government has kept up its rejection of dispensaries. Rather than enacting zoning requirements or outright bans to control where dispensaries can open, Miami has elected to rely on an internal interpretation that the Constitutional amendment is irrelevant in the face of federal law which still dictates cannabis to have no medical benefit.
Meanwhile, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, and other local governments reluctantly adopted zoning codes that limit where dispensaries can operate.
Patients cleared for medicinal marijuana usage may present their state-certified cards at dispensaries, of which there are over 270 in the state of Florida, according to FLDispensaries.com.
The city’s opposition to medicinal marijuana has caused issues for MRC44’s attempts to seek city permits to operate a dispensary at 90 NE 11th St. since 2019. Though initially refused a certificate of use by the city government, the company recently made an appeal backed by the Miami zoning board. In response, city officials questioned the board’s decision to the Miami City Commission.
The matter was scheduled to be resolved by the Commission on Thursday, April 22. Rather than wait for the Commission’s opinion however, MRC44, with another dispensary company, instead filed a suit in Miami-Dade Court Wednesday, April 21. The companies claim the city’s lack of ordinance regarding medical marijuana allows them to operate within the city without permits. The second company owns land at 60 NE 11th St., the same block as MRC44.
City Attorney Victoria Méndez issued a response Thursday saying, “We will discuss it in court.”
With the litigation pending, the Miami City Commission held off on voting on MRC44’s appeal. Meanwhile, commissioners also directed Mendez to request a judge’s declaratory judgement regarding the position of state law with regards to federal law. Either path could produce rulings that could finally settle the matter.
“I feel that there’s a discrepancy or a conflict between state and federal law, and I just want to ask a court of law to opine on that,” Mendez informed the Commission.
“Have any of the 31 states that have passed either recreational or medicinal marijuana done the same thing?” Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla asked Mendez, who responded with “I’m not sure if they have, but I cannot give you advice to open or allow marijuana dispensaries until we have a little more clarification. That’s all.”
Just months after the 2016 Florida marijuana marketplace referendum, Miami’s outlier stance let to a supremely uncomfortable moment where an official compared legalizing medicinal marijuana with legalizing pedophilia.
“If the city of Miami for some infinite, God-forbidden reason thought having sex with a child was a great way to recover from some issue and so we wrote that into our city code, just because the city says that’s legal doesn’t mean it’s legal,” said Deputy City Attorney Barnaby Min at a May 2017 Planning Zoning and Appeals Board meeting.
Some cities in Miami-Dade, including Miami Beach, have been sued over their dispensary regulations. Yet, the industry has reportedly avoided Miami at large. Ian Bacheikov, an attorney with Akerman LLC who advises medical cannabis firms on land issues, says that “state statute says you’d have to treat [marijuana dispensaries] the same way you treat a pharmacy,” while Miami is “simply saying dispensaries are something else and they are not permitted.”
Commissioner Ken Russel, a proponent of medicinal marijuana, previously indicated sponsoring an ordinance but held off for fear of his colleagues turning it around into a ban. He backed getting the courts to finally clear things up in a statement issued Thursday.
“This case, and the pending request for a federal judge to interpret the conflict between state and federal law, should signal to our federal legislators and the president that it’s time to update federal law to keep up with the will of the states, cities and the majority of their voters,” Russell said.
Thursday’s events occurred in the wake of the Florida Supreme Court issuing a decision that stymied efforts to legalize recreational marijuana; justices ruled in a 5-2 decision against a ballot by Make it Legal Florida, declaring the initiative as “misleading.”