Florida Supreme Court skeptical of state’s bid to block recreational marijuana proposal

by | Nov 8, 2023

  • The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday regarding a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana.
  • During the hearing, justices questioned the state’s claim that the ballot summary is misleading due to its failure to highlight marijuana’s illegal federal status.
  • The amendment, sponsored by Smart & Safe Florida and funded by Trulieve, would allow adults 21+ to use marijuana recreationally. The state argues the wording could confuse voters about the legality and potentially imply favoritism toward Trulieve.

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday scrutinized the state’s attempt to prevent a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana from reaching voters.

In an initiative that could lead to Florida joining other states in legalizing marijuana, the Justices questioned the state’s assertion that the ballot summary was misleading because it did not sufficiently clarify the substance’s illegal federal status. The Supreme Court’s role in the review is to ensure the ballot wording isn’t confusing and addresses a single subject.

The proposed amendment, backed by Smart & Safe Florida and heavily funded by cannabis retailer Trulieve, aims to permit adults aged 21 and older to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products for non-medical use. The state, led by Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office, argued that the wording would create confusion by stating that marijuana use would be “allowed” while remaining federally illegal. Moody’s office additionally argued that the measure appears to favor Trulieve.

However, Justice John Couriel noted that the ballot summary did explicitly state that the amendment “does not change, or immunize violations of, federal law” but applies to Florida law, questioning the perceived ambiguity argued by the state.

Justice Charles Canady, meanwhile, added to the state’s difficulties by stating he was “baffled” by the presented argument.

“We believe that the campaign’s lawyer properly conveyed their case to the Court and remain hopeful that the justices will ignore the political rhetoric, stick to the law and give Floridians the opportunity to vote on this important initiative,” Trulieve spokesperson Steve Vancore told The Capitolist.

The Attorney General’s office also contended that the summary could mislead voters into believing it would lead to the creation of more licenses for distribution, as it mentions medical marijuana treatment centers and “other state-licensed entities.”

Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz pressed for clarification as to why a voter in favor of recreational marijuana would be swayed against the amendment due to its implications on the market structure, underscoring the expectation of voter understanding in the reading of ballot measures.

Attorney John Bash, representing the amendment sponsor, defended the summary’s clarity, asserting that it was drafted in line with the court’s precedents from previous marijuana-related amendments. He further contended that the court’s historical reluctance to strike language from the ballot should be considered, particularly considering that the ballot sponsor followed the court’s previously established guidelines.

“We believe that after today’s oral arguments, it is clear that the language was drafted to conform to the roadmap that the Court itself has provided in prior cases,” said the Smart & Safe campaign. “We hope that the Court agrees that the language strictly adheres to the law and will allow the citizens of Florida to exercise their sovereign right to decide whether to amend their constitution.”

The skepticism from the bench comes as more states are legalizing marijuana. Just a day before the hearing, Ohio became the 24th state to legalize personal marijuana use. Florida itself previously approved medical marijuana in 2016, yielding a 71 percent vote in favor.

The Justices are expected to rule by April 1st on whether the amendment can be presented to Florida voters, who would need to pass it with a 60 percent majority for it to become law. More than one million Florida voters have already signed petitions in support of the amendment.


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