The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday challenging a proposed ballot measure that would legalize the recreational use of cannabis in the state. If approved by voters, the initiative constitutional amendment would legalize the use of marijuana by adults and establish a regulatory framework for commercial cannabis cultivation and sales.
Make It Legal Florida, the political committee championing the legalization ballot initiative, is currently collecting signatures in an effort to qualify the proposal for the 2022 election. But before that can happen, the state Supreme Court must approve the language of the initiative’s title and ballot summary, although the court does not rule on the merits of the proposal.
Several parties, including lawyers from the Florida attorney general’s office, attorneys for the Republican-controlled state Senate, and the Florida Chamber of Congress, are opposed to the measure and argued against it in Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing. State Solicitor General Amit Agarwal, representing Attorney General Ashley Moody, told the justices that they should reject the proposal because the measure’s summary, which is printed on the election ballots, is misleading to voters.
Opponents Cite Conflict With Federal Law
Agarwal told the court that the summary says that the amendment “permits adults 21 years or older to possess, use, purchase, display, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and marijuana accessories for personal use for any reason.”
But since marijuana would still be illegal under federal law, Agarwal argued the court should not allow the initiative to be placed on the ballot.
“Voters should be told the truth,” he said. “They should be given the tools that they need to make a fully informed decision on this ballot initiative. Voters right now are told, expressly and unqualifiedly, that the proposed amendment would permit something that it quite simply would not permit.”
George Levesque, an attorney for the Make It Legal Florida campaign, argued that the federal prohibition on marijuana does not make the initiative misleading.
“We’re changing the only constitution that we can change,” Levesque said. “The only law we can change is Florida law.”
Levesque told local media after Wednesday’s arguments that Florida’s 2016 initiative legalizing medical marijuana serves as a precedent for the current recreational cannabis proposal’s language. He also said that the ballot summary would not be confusing to the state’s voters.
“We believe the text of our proposed amendment, and the summary that describes it, accurately, clearly and unambiguously informs the voter of what we are trying to do,” Levesque said. “In this case, to permit limited amounts of marijuana to be given to adults and for adults to be able to use that marijuana for any purpose that they need it for.”
Campaign Seeks More Signatures
Make It Legal Florida had originally hoped to qualify the ballot proposal for this year’s general election in November but announced in January that it would delay the effort until the 2022 election. So far, the group has submitted 553,975 of the 766,200 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.
During oral arguments on Wednesday, the Supreme Court justices directed several questions to lawyers representing both sides of the proposal. A date for the court’s ruling has not been announced, but it is likely to be several months before the justices hand down their decision.