Miami Beach faces new legal challenges over medical marijuana restrictions

Medical marijuana company accuses city of violating Florida Constitution

An Altmed Müv dispensary in Apollo Beach (Altmed, iStock)
An Altmed Müv dispensary in Apollo Beach (Altmed, iStock)

A Florida-based medical marijuana company is waging a three-pronged legal battle to obtain a building permit in Miami Beach. Since 2019, Altmed has been fighting the city to open a dispensary, to operate under the name Müv, at 607 Fifth Street near Washington Avenue.

Altmed recently petitioned a Miami-Dade Circuit Court appellate panel to overturn a city board’s denial of a variance to get the building permit. AltMed is also separately suing the city to overturn its restrictions on where dispensaries are located, as well as suing MedMen, a rival company based in Culver City, California that already has a building permit in hand for a cannabis storefront in Miami Beach’s South-of-Fifth neighborhood.

According to a writ of certiorari filed by AltMed, the company is requesting the matter be sent back to the adjustment board for reconsideration. Miami Beach filed a motion to dismiss the petition, citing a lack of jurisdiction.

Juan Carlos Planas, an attorney for AltMed, said the city is in violation of the Florida constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana in the state. In February 2019, the city commission approved an ordinance that prohibits dispensaries from being located within 1,200 feet of each other. Planas said the law unfairly targets medical marijuana companies, noting pharmacies (which fall under a similar category as dispensaries) are not similarly restricted.

“It is based on an irrational fear of medical marijuana,” Planas said. “At the end of the day, pharmacies distribute opioids, which is a million times worse and way more dangerous. We just want fairness.”

In an emailed statement, Miami Beach Deputy City Attorney Aleksandr Boksner said the Miami Beach adjustment board acted properly in denying Altmed’s request. “The Board of Adjustment diligently reviewed the merits of the variance request, and correctly determined (based upon competent and substantial evidence) that the plaintiff failed to establish the necessary legal criteria for granting the variance request,” Boksner said. “The city is anticipating the dismissal of this appeal by the Circuit Appellate Court, and is confident that the court will rule in the city’s favor.”

Altmed submitted a building permit application in November 2018 and its contractors had been meeting with city building and zoning officials regularly regarding its intentions to open a dispensary in Miami Beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood, according to the lawsuit. While the application was pending, the city commission adopted its new ordinance.

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In April 2019, AltMed submitted its business tax receipt application and a business and security plan to the city’s building, planning and zoning departments as part of the final stages of the permit approval, the complaint states. A month later, city officials informed AltMed’s contractor that the permit would not be granted because Miami Beach had already approved MedMen’s permit for a location that is within 1,200 feet of AltMed’s proposed dispensary, according to the lawsuit.

Altmed scheduled a hearing for March in front of the adjustment board, but it was postponed until July, according to the complaint. Meanwhile, no other dispensary has opened in the neighborhood where AltMed’s site is located, including MedMen’s.

“If MedMen was going to open, it would have already,” Planas said. “But the company grew too fast and ran out of money. It’s been documented all over the press.”

According to recent news reports, MedMen’s liabilities currently exceed its assets by 50 percent and the company’s operational costs exceed 100 percent of gross revenues. A MedMen spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

In July, Altmed sued MedMen to void the permit it obtained. The lawsuit alleges that MedMen had no intention of using the site near the proposed AltMed dispensary and that MedMen sued the city to open at another location on Alton Road. AltMed alleges MedMen is using the permit as leverage against the city and plans to sell the license/permit to another medical marijuana company. Dispensaries have become a lucrative real estate play and some REITs are offering operators financing.

The lawsuit was partly dismissed earlier this month, but the judge is allowing Altmed to refile an amended complaint.

AltMed wants to overturn a Miami Beach Zoning Board of Adjustment July 10 vote denying the company’s request to approve its building permit. The petition alleges the board did not cite any findings of fact or conclusions of law.