The state of Florida recently legalized medical marijuana, and municipalities have begun to craft local ordinances. As the largest city in Florida, Miami has been somewhat slow in adopting its own zoning rules. During a recent meeting of Miami’s Planning Zoning and Appeals Board, board member Adam Gersten was curious how the zoning regulations were progressing. Deputy city attorney Barnaby Min replied, “I’m happy to make it very easy. It’s not allowed.”
What followed was a somewhat off-the-cuff rant that insulted the citizens of Miami and the will of the voters in Florida.
“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 it into our city code, just because the city says it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s legal,” Min said. “So just because for marijuana, we say marijuana is legal and the state says it’s legal, until the federal government says it’s legal, it is not legal.”
The deputy city attorney’s comments, while slightly bewildering, address an issue that affects local and state lawmakers around the country. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, but local governments are being forced to decide between the demands of their constituents and the possibility of federal repercussions when crafting marijuana laws. With one in five Americans living in a state with legalized marijuana, the decisions seem to be favoring the constituents.
“I just find it somewhat crazy that we can’t have a discussion about something that isn’t an ‘if’ but a ‘when,’”
Social media commenters had plenty to say regarding Min’s comments.
The threat of federal interference in a state matter is still present and growing. After the 2016 election, the Trump Administration has let far right conservative drug policy take over. The appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general has cannabis activists worried, despite Trump’s promise to leave marijuana reform to a state issue. Arguably, the Obama Administration did the same thing through methods such as the Cole memo, which restricted the federal government from spending funds on marijuana enforcement.
But the appointment of Jeff Sessions to the position of Attorney General signaled an escalation in enforcement, directed by an individual who has compared marijuana to heroin. Earlier this month, the Trump Administration announced through the Justice Department that it would be urging federal prosecutors to seek the harshest possible penalties for drug crime, no matter how minor. If enough prosecutors followed the recommendation, it would be a regression back to “tough on crime” policies that disproportionately affect minorities and creates overcrowding in prisons that feeds the private prison industry.
Despite these looming concerns, as well as Min’s judgment, Florida officials are already moving forward. The provisions in Amendment 2 allow policies created by the Department of Health to take over, should local cities and counties not establish their own marijuana ordinances or announce any sort of moratorium by July. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell commented that he is “happy to sponsor legislation” and regulations are already being discussed that pertain to dispensaries.
(Photo: Barnaby Min, Miami Herald)