For four years Miami has refused to issue permits for medical marijuana dispensaries but city commissioners have now paved the way for the first one to open.
Commissioners voted 3-2 Thursday to approve a certificate of use for the first medical marijuana dispensary in Miami, six years after Floridians voted to legalize cannabis for medical uses.
There are currently more than 425 dispensaries throughout Florida, but none in Miami.
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Jason Erkes, with Sunnyside Dispensaries, has several locations but none in Miami.
"This is a really big move for the patients that need to get their medicine and it's a big move for the cannabis industry," Erkes said. "It's been debated for a long time, but I think at the end of the day they're gonna see there’s no negative societal impact."
The commission had resisted granting a certificate of use for a dispensary. Commissioner Manolo Reyes voted against allowing a Los Angeles-based company to open business in Miami.
"Because I want to establish the regulations before they are authorized to be selling this marijuana, which is being called medical marijuana, and make a clear distinction between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana," Reyes said.
Supporters of dispensaries say the state has a pretty good handle on rules and regulations, with a multi-step process to vet businesses.
"It's a very tightly regulated industry so before you can apply for a license to open a store in a city like Miami you have to be licensed by the state," Erkes said.
Thursday's vote gives MRC-44 a certificate of use to open a location in downtown Miami. For years the city has been in court with MRC-44 and the court eventually ruled that because Miami hadn't specifically banned dispensaries, it had to allow the company to operate.
Commissioner Ken Russell voted in favor of the measure and said dispensaries will be treated like pharmacies.
"I have my medical marijuana card. After two surgeries on my wrist I was prescribed opioids and I recognize the symptoms of withdrawal that are created into addiction that allow people to get hooked on meth," Russell said. "This is a really slippery slope that very normal people get caught up in and having alternative forms of pain medication is crucial."