The Florida Supreme Court has killed a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana in the state.
The proposed amendment would have created the Florida Cannabis Act, allowing homegrown marijuana and regulating it like alcohol, including legalizing it for those 21 and older.
In a 5-2 decision, justices said a proposal by the political committee Sensible Florida included ballot wording that would mislead voters. By the same vote, the court in April rejected a recreational-pot proposal by the committee Make It Legal Florida.
The court majority was made up of Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston, Carlos Muniz, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans — the same majority that scuttled the Make It Legal Florida proposal.
“The ballot summary plainly tells voters that the proposed amendment ‘limit(s)’ the personal use — i.e., consumption — of recreational marijuana by age-eligible persons. But the proposed amendment itself does not do so,” according to the court’s ruling released Thursday.
During arguments in February 2020, justices appeared skeptical of the Sensible Florida proposal, which drew opposition from Attorney General Ashley Moody, the state House, and groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Additionally, the court called the defense by Sensible Florida Inc., the initiative’s sponsor, a “feeble argument” that limited means not unlimited.
“But even if we were to read the summary in this absurd manner, it would not change the fact that the proposed amendment itself does not limit personal use to some less-than-unlimited amount,” according to the ruling.
Justice Alan Lawson, joined by Justice Jorge Labarga, offered a dissent. He conceded that the summary alone was misleading but noted that the initiative’s effect is clear when read with the lengthy ballot title — “Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions.”
Lawson acknowledged that Sensible Florida proposal was a “close case.” But he said the court should have read the ballot summary in conjunction with a ballot title that said, “Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions.”
“And the (full) amendment itself details the ways that marijuana use would be regulated similar to Florida’s current regulations affecting alcohol use,” Lawson wrote. “Therefore, reading the title and summary together, ‘limited use’ could also be understood as a reference to the regulations disclosed in the aptly descriptive title.”
Sensible Florida filed to appear on the ballot in 2016. In September 2019, Moody asked the court to review the measure after it garnered enough signatures for a constitutional review. The court heard oral arguments in February 2020.
Moody posited that the 10-page measure was inherently too long to condense into 75 words, the limit for ballot summaries.
The measure only had 29,172 of the 891,589 necessary signatures to appear on the 2022 ballot.
The court’s ruling follows a previous ruling from late April when it struck down the Make It Legal Florida initiative. That proposal’s summary, the court determined, misleadingly said it would permit marijuana use without clarifying that it would still be punishable by federal law.
In May, the court deemed Florida’s medical marijuana regulations constitutional in the Florigrown case.
Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson applauded the court’s ruling. The chamber’s Litigation and Regulatory Reform Center filed an amicus brief with the court contending this proposed effort intentionally misled voters.
“We applaud the Court for reaching the same conclusion and protecting voters from efforts to obscure the initiative’s true purpose, unlimited marijuana for all,” he said. “The Florida Chamber will fight in any venue — legislative, legal or the court of public opinion — to keep Florida, Florida, and ensure efforts to utilize ballot initiatives to circumvent the appropriate legislative process are unsuccessful.”
On Twitter, Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who is vying to retake the Governor’s Mansion, linked the decision to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“The Florida Supreme Court that (DeSantis) packed with partisan judges just denied another ballot initiative to let Floridians vote on legalizing marijuana. This is wrong,” Crist said. “Legalization should be up to the people of Florida.”
All three of DeSantis’ current appointees — Couriel, Grosshans and Muniz — voted with the majority to kill the proposal. But Crist, elected to one term in the Governor’s Mansion as a Republican in 2006, appointed Canaday and Polston, the two remaining justices to vote in the majority.
Crist also appointed Labarga, one half of the dissenting contingent. Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who served as Governor for eight years, appointed Lawson.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.