The Florida Supreme Court struck down a proposed voter initiative amendment to legalize recreational cannabis on Thursday, ruling that the ballot measure’s summary was unacceptably misleading. The decision kills plans to put the constitutional amendment on the 2022 general election ballot, forcing supporters of legalizing marijuana for use by adults to restart the initiative process for a subsequent election.
The ballot measure advanced by the group Make It Legal Florida would have amended the state constitution to permit adults 21 and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces (70 grams) of cannabis, although some restrictions would be placed on the locations 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 needed to qualify for the ballot.
State Attorney General Challenges Amendment Initiative in Florida Supreme Court
But last year, Republican state Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the Florida Supreme Court to intervene and block the initiative on grounds that the ballot summary for the measure was misleading. A brief filed with the court noted that the Make It Legal Florida initiative summary’s wording said 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.
Oral arguments in the case were heard in the case last May and on Thursday, nearly a year later, the court released a decision agreeing with Moody’s argument. In a 5 to 2 majority opinion, Chief Justice Charles Canady wrote that the initiative summary “affirmatively misleads voters into believing that the recreational use of marijuana in Florida will be free of any repercussions, criminal or otherwise.”
The court found that a ballot measure cannot change or negate federal statute and that the summary should have included a notification to voters that the initiative amendment would only legalize cannabis under Florida state law.
“A constitutional amendment cannot unequivocally ‘permit’ or authorize conduct that is criminalized under federal law,” Canady wrote. “A ballot summary suggesting otherwise is affirmatively misleading.”
The justices ruled that the misleading summary unacceptably created a risk that voters would not understand the ramifications of the amendment.
“The point is that a summary should not contain language that is affirmatively misleading and creates a risk that voters will be confused,” the opinion reads.
After the Supreme Court decision was released to the public, the attorney general hailed the majority opinion.
“We thank the Florida Supreme Court for their time and attention to this issue and respect their ruling,” a Moody spokeswoman said in a statement. “Floridians must fully understand what they are voting on when they go to the ballot box.”
Cannabis Advocates Put GOP On Notice
State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has been a vocal supporter of marijuana legalization, called on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP-led state legislature to embrace cannabis policy reform.
“Florida voters have taken this into their own hands because the Florida Legislature failed to do right by the people in taking legislative action on legalization,” said Fried, the Democrat to be elected to a statewide office. “My advice is that they listen to the will of the people or they’ll be out of a job soon.”
Ben Pollara, the manager of the campaign for the state’s successful 2016 medical marijuana initiative, also noted that cannabis reform is being blocked by state leaders in Florida’s capital.
“Floridians would legalize marijuana tomorrow if given the opportunity to do so, but that’s clearly not what Tallahassee wants,” Pollara said in a statement.