For more than three years, the city has been entangled in a painfully slow-moving legal dispute with California entrepreneur Romie Chaudhari and his would-be Miami medical marijuana dispensary, which seeks to open in downtown’s Park West neighborhood near the nightclubs Space and E11even.
After a federal district court judge sided with Chaudhari and ruled that the city had “fail[ed] to act” under the provisions of Florida law by not writing an ordinance that regulates or bans medical marijuana dispensaries, it was looking as if commissioners might finally grant the city’s first medical marijuana dispensary the certificate of use permit it needs to open.
The issue was on the commission’s agenda at its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday — a scant six days before tokers around the world celebrate the annual marijuana holiday known as 4/20.
But there won’t be a 4/20 miracle after all, thanks to two senior-citizen commissioners who seem unironically stuck in the Reefer Madness era.
Take Joe Carollo, who implied at Thursday’s commission meeting that he defeated his high school football rivals on the gridiron because they were smoking doobies, whereas he had proudly said no to dope.
“Some of my friends — big boys, 6’4″, 250 [pounds] — would double-team me,” the 67-year-old Carollo reminisced from the dais. “And I’d be knocking these guys all over the place, and you wonder why? Well, it wasn’t because I was that strong.”
Manolo Reyes, who’s pushing 80, backed up his fellow fossil, railing at the ease of fraudulently obtaining medical marijuana and invoking the “children.”
“I have seen those certificates you can find on the internet. You can go and buy it,” said Reyes, ostensibly referring to phony medical marijuana cards. “They even make gummies that are accessible to children.”
Though the discussion veered off-topic, the commission’s task at hand was to determine whether to grant the city zoning director’s appeal to reverse the Planning and Zoning Appeals Board’s (PZAB’s) decision that Chaudhari should be allowed to open the city’s first medical marijuana dispensary. While the PZAB followed Florida state law — which allows medical marijuana dispensaries and requires municipalities to pass their own laws if they intend to ban or regulate them — City Attorney Victoria Mendez had previously cited marijuana’s listing as a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act as justification for denying Chaudhari’s dispensary.
Even though there hasn’t been a single raid nor any federal interference reported at any of the 57 medical marijuana dispensaries in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the zoning director sided with Mendez, appealed PZAB’s determination, and, ultimately left it up to the commission to finally decide if medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed inside the city limits.
Though studies suggest that marijuana use among Americans aged 65 years and older has increased by 75 percent to treat arthritis, cancer, and chronic pain, Carollo is against allowing Chaudhari’s dispensary to open and made it clear he would side with the zoning office, referring to the PZAB appeal as the “Cheech & Chong ordinance.” (For the record, Cheech Marin is 75 and Tommy Chong will turn 84 in May.)
“I’m just concerned, as an individual, with people who are driving out there,” Carollo said. “You don’t know anymore what someone’s on when they get behind a wheel, when they’re driving erratic.”
“My position has not changed on dispensaries: If it is treated as medicine, it has to go through the same procedure and dispensed through pharmacies with doctors and prescriptions,” he proclaimed. “What we have now is a free-for-all.”
Under Florida law, an eligible patient suffering from specific, outlined conditions must be prescribed a medical marijuana card by a doctor or licensed medical marijuana treatment center before they can purchase cannabis from a medical marijuana treatment center registered with the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use.
Gen X commissioners Ken Russell and Christine King, meanwhile, have been vocal proponents of medical marijuana. The former plans to draft an ordinance to regulate dispensaries, and the latter argued that the city is behind the times on cannabis.
“We’re on the wrong side of this,” King said. “Medical marijuana is legal in several states now. It’s gonna happen here sooner than later. The federal government is going to legalize the use of medical marijuana as well sooner than later. I think medical marijuana, in its proper use, will be a benefit.”
(Once again in the interest of setting the record straight, medical marijuana is legal in 37 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia, while 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted laws legalizing recreational use.)
The swing vote on the five-member commissioner fell to Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who was born in 1964, on the cusp separating baby boomers from Generation X.
Perhaps fittingly, he took a decidedly middle-ground approach, and deferred the item to the first commission meeting in May.
“What I want is to have a conversation and come to a midpoint where we have some dispensaries so that people who really need it, with a true medical prescription, can access the medicine they need, but not have a proliferation of these dispensaries throughout the city,” he explained.
Commissioners then voted unanimously to delay the vote on the PZAB appeal to May 12, and in the interim agreed to come up with ways to regulate the number of dispensaries.
While the deferral kicks the proverbial can down the road — a can that has been kicked down the road for more than three years now — Russell came away with the sense that the meeting was productive.
“This was a good day. This was the first time this was talked about on the dais,” the commissioner tells New Times. “Clearly, the will for medical marijuana is at a majority. As long as the majority of the commission is on the right side of this issue, dispensaries will be allowed.”