The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a proposed amendment to the voter initiative to legalize recreational cannabis, finding that the electoral summary was unacceptably misleading. The decision kills plans to include the constitutional amendment in the 2022 general election and forces proponents of adult marijuana legalization to restart the initiative process for a later election.
The electoral measure put forward by Make It Legal Florida group would have changed the state constitution to allow adults 21 and older to own up to 70 grams of cannabis, although some restrictions would apply to the places where marijuana could be used. Make It Legal Florida had already raised $ 8.2 million for the campaign and collected more than 556,000 of the nearly 900,000 signatures required to qualify for the vote.
Attorney General challenges change initiative in the Florida Supreme Court
Last year, Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody urged the Florida Supreme Court to intervene and block the initiative because the ballot summary for the measure was misleading. A brief filed with the court found that the wording of the Make It Legal Florida initiative states that the change “allows” the possession, sale, transportation, and use of marijuana.
“However, if the initiative were approved, it would not” allow “such activities: federal law prohibits the possession, sale, transport, or use of marijuana, and the proposed amendment would not reverse or override that law,” lawyers wrote in Moody’s office.
Oral arguments in the case were heard last May, and on Thursday, almost a year later, the court released a ruling agreeing with Moody’s reasoning. In a 5-2 majority opinion, Chief Justice Charles Canady wrote that the initiative’s summary “affirmatively misleads voters into believing that recreational marijuana use in Florida will be criminal or otherwise free”.
The court found that an electoral act cannot change or negate federal law and that the summary should include a notification to voters that changing the initiative would only legalize cannabis under Florida state law.
“A constitutional amendment cannot clearly” permit “or approve conduct that is criminally criminal under federal law,” Canady wrote. “A summary of the ballot papers suggesting otherwise is affirmatively misleading.”
The judges ruled that the misleading summary unacceptably ran the risk that voters would not understand the implications of the amendment.
“The point is that a summary should not contain language that is affirmatively misleading and runs the risk of confusing voters,” the statement said.
After the Supreme Court decision was made public, the Attorney General welcomed the majority opinion.
“We thank the Florida Supreme Court for their time and attention to this issue and we respect their decision,” a Moody spokeswoman said in a statement. “Floridians need to fully understand what they are voting on when they go to the ballot box.”
Cannabis advocates point this out to GOP
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has vocalized in favor of legalizing marijuana, called on Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and GOP-led lawmakers to advocate reform of cannabis policy.
“Florida voters took this into their own hands because Florida law did not please people to take legislative action to legalize it,” said Fried, the Democrat who is to be elected to national office. “My advice is that they listen to people’s will or get unemployed soon.”
Ben Pollara, campaign manager for the state’s successful 2016 medical marijuana initiative, also noted that cannabis reform is being blocked by heads of state in Florida’s capital.
“Floridians would legalize marijuana tomorrow if they had the opportunity, but that’s clearly not what Tallahassee wants,” Pollara said in a statement.