ACLU of Florida backs recreational marijuana initiative, criticizes Supreme Court’s handling of amendments

by | Jul 27, 2023

  • The ACLU of Florida submitted court documents backing the constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana statewide.
  • The nonprofit criticized the Florida Supreme Court’s history of striking down proposed amendments, arguing it overstepped its authority and used unsupported legal tests.
  • State Attorney General Ashley Moody requested a review of the proposed marijuana initiative in late May, citing concerns about its legal adequacy for the 2024 ballot.
  • If the amendment clears the Supreme Court and gets a 60 percent vote from voters, Florida’s legal retail marijuana market is expected to generate significant government revenues and have a slightly positive influence on the state’s economy.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida submitted court documents to the state Supreme Court this week, pledging support for the ongoing constitutional amendment initiative seeking to legalize recreational marijuana statewide while concurrently critiquing the Court’s recent history of striking down amendment proposals.

Maintaining a dogmatic approach in the filings, the ACLU contends that the Florida Supreme Court has repeatedly overstepped its authority by striking down proposed state constitutional amendments from reaching ballots based on unsupported legal tests. The assertion comes weeks after state Attorney General Ashley Moody formally requested a review of the recreational marijuana initiative by the Supreme Court, signaling her intent to challenge its legal adequacy for the 2024 ballot.

In her submission, Moody indicated that “the proposed amendment fails to meet the requirements” of specific state law. However, she withheld further details, promising “additional argument through a briefing at the appropriate time,” while citing a law that mandates constitutional amendments to be limited to a single subject and be in full compliance with state law’s technical requirements. On May 30, the Supreme Court stated that they would consider Moody’s challenge.

The nonprofit further asserts that legal tests that decide whether an amendment violates federal law were used in the past to block a similar marijuana legalization amendment from the ballot, arguing that the current legal framework is too flexible, allowing the court to rule on the merits of a proposed amendment, which is “not its role.”

The ACLU further calls for the Court to exercise restraint in reviewing ballot initiatives and to provide clearer guidance for drafting acceptable ballot summaries. It suggested in the brief that the Court should identify specific issues with each initiative, allowing proponents to address them for future elections, and alleges that the current legal process for drafting initiatives is burdensome and divorces Floridians from enacting their inherent rights.

“While the Florida Supreme Court, legislature, and state officials can ensure ballot integrity, they cannot interfere with the will of the people. Yet, the Florida Supreme Court sometimes prevents ballot measures from reaching voters,” reads the submitted brief. “The Court has struck down citizen initiatives on grounds not based in the text of the Constitution [and] has invited inappropriate judicial review on the merits of initiatives. Finally, it has decided cases based on certain objections while ignoring others.”

The ACLU also points to the Florida Supreme Court’s history of rejecting proposed ballot initiatives, highlighting that the Court struck four out of nine citizen initiatives it reviewed from reaching ballots in the last five years while declining to review another.

The citizens’ initiative, supported by the group Smart & Safe Florida with financial backing from Trulieve, aims to allow adults aged 21 and older to possess, purchase, and use marijuana products for personal use. It explicitly states that marijuana would still be illegal under federal law.

“Under both the single-subject requirement and the fair notice ground, the Court has no broader role than facilitating the will of the people,” states the ACLU.

If the amendment can clear the Supreme Court, and voters ultimately approve it by a 60 percent vote, Florida’s legal retail market is expected to be fully operational about six months later, largely depending on how lawmakers choose to regulate the drug.

Amy Baker, the Coordinator for the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, noted during a Financial Impact Estimating Conference (FEIC) this month that the minimum annual increase in government revenues due to recreational marijuana is estimated to be $146.4 million. When additional revenue associated with new tourists drawn to the state by legalized marijuana is taken into account, state economists predict an additional $43.6 million per year.

Regulatory changes at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation could cost $9.1 million annually, according to Baker, with an additional $1.5 million for startup, though it is projected that new license fees will completely offset those expenses.

The FIEC statement also noted potential savings from reduced marijuana-related crimes and incarceration costs, though some of those savings may be balanced by increased costs from a rise in DUI arrests.

Economic impact projections also estimated a slightly positive influence on the state’s economy. The increase in revenue, income, and jobs related to the production and sale of recreational marijuana could cause the Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to rise each year by an average of $3.8 billion, representing 0.32 percent of the annual total.

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