May 11, 2023 - News

Medical weed is legal in Florida, but a slow burn in Miami

Illustration of a gavel, but the handle is a marijuana joint.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Florida voters legalized medical cannabis in 2016, but there still isn't a single open dispensary in Miami.

Why it matters: State law allows local governments to ban or regulate medical cannabis. Miami commissioners have chosen to do neither.

  • Cities across Miami-Dade County allow dispensaries, from North Miami to Miami Beach, but not in Miami proper.
  • Prospective weed dispensaries have all been rejected by the city's zoning officials, who argue cannabis is still illegal under federal law — a longstanding position of the city attorney.
  • Dispensaries can appeal directly to the City Commission on a case-by-case basis.

Catch up fast: Commissioners voted 3-2 last May to approve Miami's first dispensary after the applicant, holding company MRC44, sued the city in 2021.

  • But there still isn't a local ordinance regulating where dispensaries can operate or what rules they need to follow.
  • The May vote didn't change the minds of the city's zoning officials or members of the city's Planning Zoning and Appeals Board (PZAB), who rejected at least five subsequent applications to open dispensaries.

The latest: Commissioners are scheduled to vote today on two application appeals — one filed by a dispensary appealing a city denial and the other filed by the city appealing a PZAB order overturning a previous denial.

What they're saying: Attorney Louis J. Terminello, who represents MRC44 and the other applicants, tells Axios that Miami residents can still legally order a delivery of medical cannabis from a dispensary outside city limits.

  • "That's how ludicrous it is for the city not to be in the 21st century," the chair of Greenspoon Marder's Hospitality, Alcohol & Leisure Industry Group says.

Former Commissioner Ken Russell, a proponent of medical cannabis before leaving office late last year to run for Congress, spoke publicly at the time about his experience taking medical marijuana while recovering from surgery.

  • He tells Axios that he hoped the May vote would have set a precedent for the city to approve future applications, but now doesn't know "where it will go from here."
  • "I don't know if a champion remains on the commission to see that through," Russell says.

The intrigue: The city attorney's office has drafted an ordinance with proposals to regulate dispensaries, but the City Commission deferred it in January and has yet to consider it.

  • Commission Chairperson Christine King, who voted with Russell last May, tells Axios in a statement that allowing dispensaries opens up "a new system of healing to our residents who need it most."
  • "Like any new initiative, careful forethought must be given to how this is handled," she said.

What we're watching: Whether the commission has a majority to regulate medical cannabis.

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