Florida AG Files Challenge to Cannabis Legalization Initiative

The Florida attorney general has filed a legal challenge to a proposed recreational marijuana legalization ballot measure with the state Supreme Court.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody on Monday filed a challenge to a proposed ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana with the state Supreme Court, arguing that the initiative should not appear before voters in next year’s general election. If successful, the proposed amendment initiative from the group Smart & Safe Florida would legalize cannabis for all adults aged 21 and up. 

In a legal opinion filed with the Florida Supreme Court on Monday, Moody, a Republican who has been the state’s attorney general since 2019, argued that the proposed marijuana legalization ballot measure is misleading to voters. In the brief, she notes that according to the ballot summary, the proposed initiative would permit “adults 21 years or older to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products and marijuana accessories” for non-medical consumption.

“That is incorrect and misleading,” because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, she wrote in the state’s brief. “In previously approving similarly worded ballot summaries, the court erred.”

“[M]arijuana is independently prohibited by federal law,” the brief notes, as cited by the Orlando Sentinel. “Indeed, every individual who possesses marijuana under the scheme provided by the proposed amendment would become a federal criminal.”

The ballot summary notes that the initiative does not change federal law, but that language is “inadequate to resolve the confusion,” Moody wrote in the brief.

To qualify for the ballot, the proposal must first be approved by the Supreme Court and receive nearly 900,000 verified signatures from registered voters. If the initiative survives the challenge by Moody, it must receive at least 60% of the vote in the 2024 general election to become law.

Medical Marijuana Legalized In 2016

In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court approved a medical marijuana legalization ballot measure that went on to garner 71% of the vote at the polls in that year’s election. But in her legal brief, Moody wrote that “voters need clear guidance before being asked to lift state-law penalties for the possession of a substance that would subject users to devastating criminal liability under federal law. And the rampant misinformation in the press and being peddled by the sponsor of this initiative about its effects makes clarity all the more pivotal.”

In a 5-2 decision in 2021, the Florida Supreme Court rejected a proposed recreational marijuana initiative that was challenged by Moody. The same year, the court also rejected a second adult-use cannabis ballot proposal in a separate decision.

Campaign Responds To Challenge

After Moody filed the brief challenging the proposal, Smart & Safe Florida spokesman Steve Vancore said the campaign does not agree with Moody’s assessment of the ballot measure.

“We believe the language as written clearly complies with the requirements of the Constitution. We look forward to bringing this matter to the Florida Supreme Court and are confident that the court will conclude that there is no lawful basis to set aside the ballot initiative,” Vancore said in a public statement. “This important issue should be entrusted to the citizens of Florida — over a million of whom have already signed the Smart & Safe Florida petition saying they support it — to decide for themselves through democratic choice.”

Daniel Russell, an attorney specializing in cannabis law, accused Moody of politicizing the issue.

“This document is more Fox News fear-mongering intended to produce goodwill from ‘the base’ than a legal document filed by Florida’s chief legal officer on behalf of the state’s 22 million residents,” Russell told The News Service of Florida in an email. “It reeks of conservative nonsense and Nixonian views on a substance that is legalized for recreational use in 23 states, three U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. I believe that the Supreme Court of Florida will see this for what it is and allow voters to decide the next steps for Florida’s future.”

Proposal Would Legalize Weed For Adults in Florida

The proposal from Smart & Safe Florida would allow the state’s current providers of medical marijuana to begin selling cannabis to all adults aged 21 and up. Consumers would be permitted to purchase up to three ounces of marijuana at a time, including no more than five grams of cannabis concentrates. The proposed constitutional amendment ballot measure allows state lawmakers to authorize additional adult-use cannabis business licenses, although there is no requirement for the legislature to do so. The initiative also retains Florida’s current vertically integrated business structure, which requires operators to control the production and marketing of marijuana from seed to sale.

The Smart & Safe Florida campaign is sponsored by Trulieve, the state’s largest medical marijuana provider, to the tune of contributions totaling more than $38 million, according to data from the state Division of Elections. Earlier this month, Trulieve announced that the proposal had received enough signatures from Florida voters to qualify for the 2024 general election ballot.

“Our investment demonstrates our firm belief that Floridians are ready to experience the freedom to use cannabis for personal consumption; a freedom which is currently enjoyed by more than half of America’s adults,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said in a statement from the company on June 1. “With over 965,000 validated signatures from nearly every part of our state, it is clear these voters share that belief. We are thrilled the campaign has made this milestone and look forward to seeing this initiative on the ballot next November.”

  1. It does not matter what the vast majority of Floridians want. A small minority of powerful people do not want recreational marijuana approved and therefore the ballot initiative is not likely to survive Florida Supreme Court scrutiny.

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