The Florida Supreme Court has killed another marijuana legalization ballot initiative, invalidating the proposal on Thursday because a majority of justices said its summary is “misleading.”
This is the second citizen initiative that the court has nullified this year that would have established a regulated marijuana market in the state.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s (R) office requested a review of both initiatives with the court and filed briefs opposing the petitions. And now, the justices have handed down another defeat to reform advocates.
As in the past case, the ruling was decided based on a statutory challenge of a single phrase. The ballot summary uses the words “limited use” in reference to activities that would be made lawful for adults. But the justices said that makes the measure “affirmatively misleading” because of separate language included in the full text, and it is therefore invalid.
“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,” a five-justice majority wrote.
“Even if this language, when viewed in isolation, could somehow be argued to establish a limitation on personal use in an amount equal to a ‘quantit[y] reasonably indicative of personal use or for use by household members,’ any such argument is undermined by the fact that the same section of the proposed amendment further provides that the enumerated quantities ‘are minimum quantities, subject to increase by state, county, or municipal legislation, but not subject to decrease,'” the opinion continues.
“In other words, the proposed amendment establishes a quantity floor below which an age-eligible person cannot be prosecuted, while at the same time authorizing the state and local governments to permit unlimited personal use of recreational marijuana. And although other sections of the proposed amendment leave open the possibility that, for example, businesses might decide to limit or prohibit the use of marijuana on their property, the proposed amendment itself does not limit the use of marijuana. But the ballot summary tells voters otherwise.”
Two justices signed onto a dissenting opinion, though it argued that “the dispositive legal issue here is materially different” than in the other nullified case.
“I agree with the majority that summarizing this proposed amendment as providing ‘for limited use and growing’ of marijuana could be viewed as misleading because ‘use’ could reasonably be understood to mean ‘consumption’ and the amendment places no limitation on the amount of marijuana that a user could consume, as explained by the majority,” Justice Alan Lawson wrote in the dissent.
“However, we must always read the ballot title and summary together if doing so would affect our legal analysis,” he said, adding that “reading the title and summary together, ‘limited use’ could also be understood as a reference to the regulations disclosed in the aptly descriptive title.”
What all of this means for Florida advocates and consumers is that the chances of legalization making the 2022 ballot have now dimmed significantly, despite the fact that both campaigns behind these proposals made strong headway in collecting signatures to qualify them.
Prior to the previous court ruling on the tax-and-regulate initiative, the separate Make It Legal Florida campaign had collected 556,049 signatures. They needed 891,589 to qualify their initiative, which unlike the one in Thursday’s case would not have allowed home cultivation of cannabis. Then at least 60 percent of voters would’ve had to approve it on the ballot for it to pass.
The Sensible Florida campaign that’s at the center of this latest ruling had gathered 29,180 signatures as of Monday, according to The Miami Herald’s Samantha Gross.
Another adult use marijuana ballot initiative in the can.
This one built in language for home grown cannabis, which others did not.
Had 29,180 signatures as of Monday. https://t.co/v8jfQ1u06V
— Samantha J. Gross (@samanthajgross) June 17, 2021
The Make It Legal Florida campaign had intended to get legalization on the ballot in 2020, but activists announced early that year that they were shifting focus to 2022 due to restrictive signature gathering requirements.
Recent polling shows that a majority of Florida voters (59 percent) support legalizing cannabis for adult use. That said, the constitutional amendments that the court rejected would have required 60 percent voter approval to be enacted, meaning activists still would have had their work cut out for them to ensure victory—especially in a midterm election in which turnout dynamics are typically not as favorable to cannabis reform as in presidential years.
Courts have played an outsized role in influencing marijuana reform proposals that voters have supported over the past year.
Last month, for example, the Mississippi Supreme Court invalidated a reform measure that overwhelmingly passed at the ballot in November. The ruling was related to a procedural flaw in the citizen initiative process.
While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.
In South Dakota, the fate of an adult-use legalization initiative that voters approved last November is also in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court, where a sheriff is challenging its constitutionality based on a single subject rule as well.
Meanwhile, anti-marijuana groups in Montana have recently moved to dismiss their own lawsuit challenging a voter-approved legalization measure after the governor signed separate reform implementation legislation into law.
Read the Florida Supreme Court ruling on the latest marijuana legalization initiative: