Florida’s Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for next month in a case that will decide whether a marijuana legalization initiative will appear on the state’s 2024 ballot.
Over the past several months, the court has been receiving briefs from both the state attorney general, who filed a legal challenge against the cannabis measure and is asking for it to be invalidated, and the Smart & Safe Florida campaign, which is behind the proposed reform.
Attorney General Ashley Moody’s (R) main argument is that the ballot initiative is affirmatively misleading, in part because she says voters would not be able to understand from the summary that marijuana would remain federally illegal even if Florida moved to legalize.
The campaign and supporters have maintained that the court must respect the intent of the citizen initiative process and allow voters the opportunity to decide on the issue after they turned in nearly one million signatures for ballot placement that have been certified by the state. They’ve defended the clarity of the measure.
Now that the key arguments and responses from both parties have been submitted through briefs, the court announced on Tuesday that it is scheduling a hearing on the dispute for November 8.
“A maximum of twenty minutes to the side is allowed for the argument, but counsel is expected to use only so much of that time as is necessary,” the order states, adding in all-caps, “NO CONTINUANCES WILL BE GRANTED EXCEPT UPON A SHOWING OF EXTREME HARDSHIP.”
Moody made the same argument about misleading ballot language against a 2022 legalization measure, and the Supreme Court subsequently invalidated it.
In order to get on the ballot, an initiative must have valid signatures from registered voters totaling at least eight percent of the district-wide vote in the most recent presidential election in at least 14 of the state’s 28 congressional districts—in addition to the statewide number needed. The marijuana campaign has met the threshold in exactly 14 districts, according to the recently updated state data.
The marijuana company Trulieve has contributed more than $39 million to the Smart & Safe Florida campaign to date. Moody has accused the company of supporting the measure in order to have a “monopolistic stranglehold” on the state’s cannabis market.
If approved, the measure would change the state Constitution to allow existing medical cannabis companies in the state like Trulieve to begin selling marijuana to all adults over 21. It contains a provision that would allow—but not require—lawmakers to take steps toward the approval of additional businesses. Home cultivation by consumers would not be allowed under the proposal as drafted.
Adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, only five grams of which could be marijuana concentrate products. The three-page measure also omits equity provisions favored by advocates such as expungements or other relief for people with prior cannabis convictions.
Separately, economic analysts from the Florida legislature and the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) estimate that the marijuana legalization initiative would generate between $195.6 million and $431.3 million in new sales tax revenue annually if voters enact it. And those figures could increase considerably if lawmakers opted to impose an additional excise tax on cannabis transactions that’s similar to the ones in place in other legalized states.
A poll published in March found that 70 percent of Florida voters support legalizing marijuana. Florida voters approved a medical cannabis constitutional amendment in 2016.
Here’s what the Smart & Safe Florida marijuana legalization initiative would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis for personal use. The cap for marijuana concentrates would be five grams.
Medical cannabis dispensaries could “acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute marijuana products and marijuana accessories to adults for personal use.”
The legislature would be authorized—but not required—to approve additional entities that are not currently licensed cannabis dispensaries.
The initiative specifies that nothing in the proposal prevents the legislature from “enacting laws that are consistent with this amendment.”
The amendment further clarifies that nothing about the proposal “changes federal law,” which seems to be an effort to avoid past legal challenges about misleading ballot language.
There are no provisions for home cultivation, expungement of prior records or social equity.
The measure would take effect six months following approval by voters.
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Here’s the full text of the ballot title and summary:
“Allows adults 21 years or older to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products and marijuana accessories for non-medical personal consumption by smoking, ingestion, or otherwise; allows Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, and other state licensed entities, to acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute such products and accessories. Applies to Florida law; does not change, or immunize violations of, federal law. Establishes possession limits for personal use. Allows consistent legislation. Defines terms. Provides effective date.”
Should the initiative make the 2024 ballot, at least 60 percent of Florida voters would have to approve the measure for it to be enacted.
Meanwhile, a separate campaign is actively collecting signatures for a different initiative to give adults a medical marijuana home cultivation option that would not be provided under the Smart & Safe Florida legalization measure. Signature gathering kicked off for the home grow initiative in August, with petitions available online and at certain dispensaries.
An earlier poll released in 2021 found that a majority of Florida voters (59 percent) support legalizing cannabis for adult use, so that’s a slim margin that shows that advocates will have their work cut out for them if the measure qualifies.
However, the legalization campaign shouldn’t expect to receive support from DeSantis, a Republican 2024 presidential candidate, who said at a recent event that he would not move to federally decriminalize cannabis if elected.
DeSantis signed a bill that took effect over the summer that added restrictions to medical marijuana advertising and manufacturing, prohibiting any products or messages that promote “recreational” cannabis use, while adding more stringent eligibility requirements for workers in the industry.
He also signed legislation in July banning sales of any consumable hemp products—including cannabis “chewing gum”—to people under 21, an expansion of an existing prohibition on young people being able to purchase smokable hemp.
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