Puff, puff, pass: Developers win approval for downtown Miami medical marijuana dispensary

City attorney fought dispensary for property owned by Marc Roberts and Romie Chaudhari

E11even's Marc Roberts and Romie Chaudhari with 60 and 90 Northeast 11th Street (Marc Roberts, Abingtonemerson, Loopnet, iStock)
E11even's Marc Roberts and Romie Chaudhari with 60 and 90 Northeast 11th Street (Marc Roberts, Abington Emerson, Loopnet, iStock)

Miami’s de facto ban on medical marijuana dispensaries went up in smoke after elected officials voted to allow a pair of downtown Miami landlords to seek permits for a cannabis retail outlet.

On Thursday, the Miami City Commission, by a 3-2 vote, upheld a February 2021 planning and zoning appeals board decision that granted a certificate of use for a medical marijuana dispensary at 90 Northeast 11th Street.

The property, which currently has a warehouse zoned for nightclub entertainment, is owned by Los Angeles-based real estate investor Romie Chaudhari and Marc Roberts, co-owner of E11even nightclub across the street from the warehouse and co-developer of two E11even-branded residential towers on the same block. Chaudhari, founder of Chiron Investments, is also the owner of the Swansea City English Premier League soccer club.

Through the entity that owns the warehouse, Roberts and Chaudhari sued the city in April of last year after Miami’s zoning office appealed the planning board’s decision to approve the certificate of use. The zoning office had previously denied the request based on an opinion from City Attorney Victoria Mendez that medical marijuana dispensaries could not be permitted because cannabis is still classified as an illegal drug by the federal government.

The plaintiffs, which also included another Roberts entity that owns a warehouse at 60 Northeast 11th Street, alleged the city of Miami was in violation of a state constitutional amendment granting Floridians access to marijuana for medical use.

In September, U.S. District judge K. Michael Moore ruled federal courts had no jurisdiction over where medical marijuana dispensaries are located in the city.

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State law allows cities and counties to issue outright bans on dispensaries or regulate where they are located. Many local governments, including Coral Gables, Miami Beach, North Miami and Miami-Dade County, have passed zoning regulations allowing dispensaries. Jupiter, North Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens are some South Florida cities that prohibit medical marijuana outlets.

Miami has not approved any dispensary legislation because its top legal adviser, Mendez, has insisted a conflict between the federal cannabis prohibition and the Florida constitutional amendment needed to be resolved first.

Miami City Commissioners Alex Diaz de la Portilla, Christine King and Ken Russell bucked the administration’s stance and voted to approve the certificate of use.

“I believe the position the city is taking is on the wrong side of this,” King said. “It is happening. It is in the [state] Constitution that medical marijuana is permissible in the state of Florida. I have heard everything I need to hear.”

Commissioners Joe Carollo and Manolo Reyes, the two nay votes, warned Miami would descend into reefer madness even though Florida tightly regulates the medical marijuana industry.

“If you follow all the news, how many children have been sick because they have gotten ahold of their parents’ gummies?” Reyes said. “This is not just open it up and let them sell whatever they want.”

Without first approving an ordinance establishing the rules and guidelines for opening a dispensary, “we’re kind of making this into a sort of Cheech and Chong free-for-all,” Carollo said.