Federal judge sides with Miami marijuana dispensary owners

Owners Romie Chaudhari at 90 NE 11th Street and Marc Roberts at 60 NE 11 Street (Google Maps)

Miami’s de facto ban on medical marijuana dispensaries has taken a big hit. Last week, U.S. District Judge Michael K. Moore ruled that the federal court had no jurisdiction over the location of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

As a result, Moore has approved a request from two prominent downtown Miami landowners who oppose the ban to return their April 21 lawsuit against the city to Miami-Dade circuit court. Miami took the complaint to federal court a month later.

Separate entities led by landowners Marc Roberts and Romie Chaudhari want to open medical marijuana dispensaries in two different locations, but have been unable to do so because the city will not issue certificates of occupancy for both properties, according to the lawsuit. .

Roberts, a Miami-based real estate investor who is co-developer of the E11even Hotel & Residences Miami condo project and co-owner of E11even nightclub, owns 6,250 square feet of nightclub space at 60 Northeast 11th Street.

Chaudhari, a Los Angeles-based real estate investor and owner of Swansea City English Premier League Football Club, owns the 11,250 square foot property located next door at 90 Northeast 11 Street.

Roberts bought his property for $ 800,000 in 2012, according to the records. Chaudhari, who also runs Chiron Investments, a company with primary real estate assets in Boston and Los Angeles, paid $ 16.5 million for its warehouse in 2018.

The dispute stems from a notice from the Miami City Attorney’s Office that the federal Controlled Substance Act, which classifies cannabis as an illegal drug, replaces a 2016 Florida constitutional amendment that legalized marijuana at medical purposes. Even though more than 70% of voters in the state approved the measure, Miami City Attorney Victoria Mendez maintained that city officials are not allowed to issue permits for dispensaries because cannabis remains banned. by the federal government.

Mendez said by email: “We are evaluating our options” in response to questions whether the city would appeal the judge’s decision, continue to fight in state court, or issue certificates of occupancy. Lawyers for Roberts and Chaudhari did not respond to requests for comment.

By sending the case back to state court, Moore burned holes in the city’s defense strategy. The federal judge determined that the city of Miami “has not identified, and this court is not aware, of a federal cause of action or of a federal remedy under the [Controlled Substances Act] which prevails over applicable state law, ”according to Moore’s Sept. 21 order.

Moore also noted that the Florida legislature, when it promulgated the rules and regulations for the distribution of medical marijuana, authorized cities and counties to pass ordinances banning or regulating the location of cannabis dispensaries. within their limits.

Still, the city of Miami has taken no action to pass prescriptions related to medical marijuana processing centers, the technical name for dispensaries, Moore wrote.

“The city’s elected officials sought to circumvent the exercise of their own municipal function by invoking the jurisdiction of a federal court to achieve a result that was accessible to them in the first place,” wrote Moore. “Unfortunately, for the city, this tribunal does not have the jurisdiction to discharge its responsibilities on its behalf.”

Real estate owners and marijuana companies have also sued the city of Miami Beach over zoning and building regulations. In December, Florida-based Altmed filed a lawsuit to overturn a Miami Beach Zoning Adjustment Board vote in July 2020 denying the company a waiver for a permit to open a dispensary nearby. a medical marijuana retail site owned and operated by MedMen, a national cannabis company based in Culver City, California. MedMen also sued the city when it was initially denied building permits.

Altmed’s petition was dismissed in February because it was filed after the court deadline for filing zoning appeals, according to court documents. In 2017, Miami Beach passed an ordinance requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to be 1,200 feet from each other. The distance requirement also applies to regular pharmacies.

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