State officials in Florida who are attempting to block a constitutional amendment ballot initiative that would legalize adult-use cannabis have filed briefs that explain their legal arguments with the state Supreme Court. Lawyers for the Republican-controlled state Senate and Attorney General Ashley Moody outlined their position against the initiative supported by Make It Legal Florida in the legal briefs filed on Monday.
Lawyers for the Senate are basing their argument on a new state law signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month. The law contains several provisions designed to make it more difficult to amend Florida’s constitution through a ballot initiative, including requiring more signatures before a mandated Supreme Court review is triggered.
The Senate lawyers argue that another provision of the law that requires the Supreme Court to consider whether initiatives are “facially invalid under the United States Constitution” is cause to block the legalization amendment, writing that marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law supersedes state law under the Supremacy Clause.
“The passage of (the new law) clarifies the scope of the court’s review and opens the door for the court to consider the inability to comport with federal law,” Senate attorneys wrote in the brief. “Because the initiative is facially invalid under the U.S. Constitution, the court should remove it from the ballot.”
State Attorney General Also Opposes Initiative
Moody’s office also filed a brief that opposes the initiative from Make It Legal Florida, which announced in January that it was delaying the legalization effort until the 2022 election. But the attorney general’s argument isn’t based on the controversial law, instead relying on an existing statute that bans ballot initiatives from misleading voters. The brief notes that the Make It Legal Florida initiative’s wording says that the amendment “permits” the possession, sale, transportation, and use of marijuana.
“If approved, however, the initiative would not ‘permit’ such activities: Federal law prohibits the possession, sale, transportation, or use of marijuana, and the proposed amendment would not undo or override that law,” lawyers in Moody’s office wrote.
The attorney general’s office also noted that the Supreme Court need not rely on the new law that tightens the regulations on amendment initiatives, arguing that the misleading language in the legalization initiative is cause enough to block it from the ballot.
“Because the misleading ballot language provides an adequate and independent ground for resolving this case, the (Supreme) Court need not – and, based on traditional principles of judicial restraint, should not – address the facial validity of the proposed amendment under the United States Constitution,” the brief reads.
In a January filing that anticipated Moody’s position, lawyers for Make It Legal Florida argued against the claim that the initiative is misleading.
“Under this (Supreme) Court’s precedent, ballot summaries are not required to recite the current state of federal law, or an amendment’s effect on federal law,” the attorneys wrote in the brief. “Nor must a ballot summary remind voters that they are voting to amend Florida’s Constitution rather than federal statutes. … Florida voters do not require a lesson in these elementary civics principles, especially having voted on marijuana amendments in two out of the last three election cycles.”
The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments about the Make It Legal Florida initiative on May 6.