Florida Supreme Court Pulls the Plug on Recreational Cannabis Initiative

The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a proposed initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults is misleading and can not appear on next year’s ballot. The decision marks the second time in three months that Florida’s highest court has struck down proposed ballot measures to legalize cannabis in the state.

The proposed constitutional amendment initiative, titled “Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions,” was sponsored by the group Sensible Florida, which filed in 2016 to have the measure placed on the state ballot. If successful, the constitutional amendment would have legalized marijuana use and home cultivation for adults and established a regulated cannabis economy.

After the campaign collected enough signatures to qualify for a constitutional review, Florida Attorney General asked the state Supreme Court in September 2019 to determine if the ballot measure’s language was legal. The court heard oral arguments in the case in February 2020 but did not issue a ruling until Thursday, more than two years later.

A majority of the court consisting of Justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston, Carlos Muñiz, John Courie,l and Jamie Grosshans ruled that the summary for the ballot measure was unconstitutionally misleading and can not appear on the 2022 ballot. The court based its decision on the inclusion of the phrase “limited use” in the 75-word ballot summary.

The initiative states that it would legalize cannabis “for limited use and growing by persons twenty-one years of age or older.” The court ruled that the summary’s language could cause a voter to erroneously assume that the initiative limits the amount of cannabis an individual can consume. However, no such language appears in the initiative.

“The Sponsor’s inability to point to anything in the text of the measure that could credibly support the ‘limited use’ language in the summary leaves no doubt that the summary is affirmatively misleading,” the justices wrote in the majority opinion.

Florida Supreme Court Decision Spurs Swift Reaction

After the court’s decision was released, Lauren Cassidy, a spokesperson for Moody, thanked the court in a statement.

“Floridians must fully understand what they are voting on when they go to the ballot box,” Cassidy said.

Attorney Michael Minardi, a backer of the initiative, told local medial that he is disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision. He said that Sensible Florida will prepare a new draft of the initiative and still has hope that they can qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot.

“We have already rewritten some alternate versions,” Minardi said. “It’s really a welcome thing just to finally have the opinion.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District and hopes to be the Democratic challenger to Gov. Ros DeSantis in next year’s election, criticized the court’s decision in a social media post.

“The Florida Supreme Court that @GovRonDeSantis packed with partisan judges just denied another ballot initiative to let Floridians vote on legalizing marijuana. This is wrong. Legalization should be up to the people of Florida,” Crist tweeted.

Court Nixed Separate Initiative In April

Thursday’s decision is the second time in three months that the Florida Supreme Court has struck down a proposed marijuana legalization measure from the group Make It Legal Florida. In April, the court ruled that a separate ballot proposal was misleading because the summary failed to inform voters that cannabis would still be illegal under federal law.

“A constitutional amendment cannot unequivocally ‘permit’ or authorize conduct that is criminalized under federal law,” Canady wrote in that decision. “A ballot summary suggesting otherwise is affirmatively misleading.”

After the ballot measure was struck down, the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and another Democratic vying for the party’s nomination to challenge DeSantis, said that state lawmakers are failing their constituents.

“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. “My advice is that they listen to the will of the people or they’ll be out of a job soon.”

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