Miami Beach commissioners have voted unanimously to make public cannabis consumption a criminal offense. And according to law enforcement, there’s one rowdy visitor to thank for the new ordinance. Captain Daniel Morgalo says someone climbed on top of a cop car during a “Columbus Day” celebration to proudly smoke a joint. And without that incident, Morgalo stated, there wouldn’t be a new rule to deal with such behavior.
But Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber has had his sights on a public weed smoking ban since Florida’s legalization of hemp and Miami-Dade’s partial decriminalization of cannabis began prompting a more relaxed attitude toward marijuana consumption. Some Miami Beach residents and visitors were enjoying their liberties too much, in Gelber’s view, so he pushed city commissioners to pass an ordinance outlawing the public consumption of hemp and marijuana in any form.
In Miami Beach, Public Weed Smoking Can Now Put You Behind Bars
Over the past few years, municipalities across Florida have passed decriminalization ordinances to reduce simple cannabis use and possession charges to civil offenses. State’s Attorneys have published policy memos stating that prosecutors would drop all misdemeanor marijuana cases. Despite stalled efforts at legalizing recreational cannabis, it seemed Florida officials were at least taking steps to reduce the mass incarceration-fueling enforcement of marijuana laws.
Then, on July 1, Florida legalized hemp, bringing state law into line with the federal lifting of the ban on hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill. The move, alongside the increasing adoption of decriminalization ordinances, prompted many state and local law enforcement agencies to basically throw in the towel. Confronted with the difficulty and expense of distinguishing between legal hemp and illegal marijuana in the field, they mostly abandoned efforts to criminalize simple cannabis possession and use.
Still, possessing or using cannabis without a medical license remained an offense in Florida, but one that police and prosecutors in many large municipalities could chose to treat as a civil infraction, a “weed ticket,” or ignore altogether. But the relaxed stance on cannabis had the effect of encouraging people to act like weed was more or less legal. And in a place like Miami Beach, that meant regular droves of tourists turning public spaces into open air cannabis lounges.
The situation soon began drawing the ire of Miami Beach residents, according to Mayor Gelber. “I know our residents expect a certain level of conduct,” Gelber said, presumably referring to a level of conduct that excludes smoking weed on top of police cruisers. City commissioners agreed, voting unanimously to elevate public cannabis consumption to a criminal offense. Now, the crime of smoking weed in public comes with a $500 fine and a maximum 60 days in the clink.
Spring Breakers Beware: Undercover Cops Targeting Cannabis Consumption
Even in places where weed is legal, public consumption has never been popular policy. But Miami Beach is one of the first municipalities to adopt such a harsh approach. And the new ordinance’s language might leave it open to constitutional challenges. Under Miami Beach’s new law, it doesn’t matter if someone is smoking cannabis with 30 percent THC or a strain of hemp flower that’s all CBD. Do so in public, and it’s 60 days jail and a $500 fine. But hemp is legal in Florida, and a ban on consuming it would seem to violate that right.
Nevertheless, Miami Beach law enforcement appear ready to begin enforcing the new ordinance and are especially targeting popular seasons like spring break and Memorial Day weekend. And it sounds like they’ll be looking to catch party-goers off guard. Miami Beach officers, “are very good, if you will, at using discretion,” said Miami Beach Police Chief Rick Clements.
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