Looming recreational marijuana decision could trigger massive legalization campaign – are opponents high on their own supply?

by | Mar 5, 2024

The Florida Supreme Court is expected to spark a decision this month on ballot language that could light up the opportunity for voters to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana. How many hits from the metaphor bong can I weave into this analysis piece to illustrate that opponents may be on the verge of getting caught in a cloud of unpreparedness? Inhale the insights as we dive in.

Later this month, the Florida Supreme Court will likely rule on proposed ballot language aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana in the Sunshine State. The decision could very well signal whether Floridians will be lighting up legally or if the state will continue to just simmer under the sun. With Trulieve spearheading the Smart and Safe Florida campaign and its $50+ million ballot initiative, the campaign could turn Florida green in more ways than one, and we’re not talking about environmental conservation. This is about the green that could come from recreational marijuana sales, the green that may be lost (or gained) in tourism dollars, and the green that is required to oppose Trulieve if opponents hope to defeat the measure come November.

In the Florida Supreme Court, the air is thick with the scent of a pivotal decision on the horizon. As the court deliberates on the proposed ballot language, some argue the court is being asked to pass the peace pipe in a circle that’s previously puffed on similar issues. But to snuff out this initiative, many conservatives, including Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, have argued that the justices should cough up a cloud of contradiction against their own crop of legal precedents. And other likely opponents, including business groups, law enforcement, Republicans in general, and yes, even Disney and other family-friendly tourism industry giants, appear to believe there’s no chance the matter gets past the court’s conservative justices.

Yet historically, the court has allowed similar measures to float onto the ballot. The challenge put forth by the state, arguing that the ballot summary’s haze doesn’t clarify marijuana’s illegal federal status, was met with a cough from the bench. Justice John Couriel, peering through the fog, noted the ballot summary does indeed clear the air by stating the amendment doesn’t blaze a new trail of legalization through federal law – and in fact couldn’t have been more explicit on the matter. Even conservative Justice Charles Canady expressed his bafflement over the state’s argument. At the time, it appeared as if high court found that the state’s arguments were rolled too tight, hindering the flow of logical reasoning.  But reading the tea leaves of oral arguments is a far cry from the official court decision – for that we must still wait.

As the court weighs its decision, some conservatives argue that it must be mindful of the legal precedents it set like dominoes in previous rulings.  The overturning of Roe v. Wade notwithstanding, conservative justices generally don’t like knocking those dominoes over. The bench’s obvious skepticism, coupled with the historical backdrop of allowing voters to decide on marijuana-related issues, puts the court in a position where denying the ballot initiative would not only contradict its own trail of smoke but could also dampen the democratic spirit of letting Floridians decide the matter.

Are Florida’s natural opponents to recreational marijuana too chill?

Should the court indeed approve the ballot language, will law-and-order Republicans even bother to oppose the measure?  Will the state’s largest business groups, the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida, lift a finger?  It appears many potential opponents have been lounging too long in the sun, assuming the court’s own conservative leanings will automatically stub out the ballot initiative. Come November, though, Republicans might be facing a classic case of misjudging the potency of the matter at hand. Or, maybe Republicans are actually okay with legalized marijuana?  Or are they just resigned to defeat?  More likely still, perhaps opponents are just plain caught off guard, lulled into complacency by taking too much comfort in the notion that the high court would extinguish the matter?

It’s not just Republicans and business groups who might form the backbone of resistance, though. Among those with the potential to cough up oppositional resources: law enforcement officials from around the state, a wide range of advocacy groups, as well as the state’s massive tourism industry, led by the Walt Disney Company, backed by other large family entertainment juggernauts like Universal Studios and more.

We can file this under “politics makes strange bedfellows,” but when it comes to opposing the question of legalized recreational marijuana, even Governor Ron DeSantis might gladly join hands with Disney and sing Kumbaya if it meant defeating the measure at the ballot box. After all, family-friendly titans like Disney and vacation resorts might not be too keen on guests getting stoned in the Magic Kingdom or on the sandy beaches, while DeSantis has also expressed his desire not to have Florida smelling like a Snoop Dogg concert.

But if that is going to happen, there’s no sign of it at the moment.

As we peer through the smoke, the likely approval of the ballot language by the Florida Supreme Court seems to be more than just a puff of wishful thinking for progressives. There’s a very real possibility that the question goes to voters. If so, the matter might not just represent an undesirable outcome for certain Florida business groups, but could also represent a significant threat to the Republican grip on power – after all, how can it possibly help the GOP to have tens of thousands of pro-marijuana voters racing to cast a ballot in the 2024 election? Do Republicans actually think those people will vote for them?

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Disney has, thus far, remained on the sidelines. Or maybe there are other tactical considerations – and conflicting interests at play between Disney, business groups, and for Republicans.

The impending decision by the Florida Supreme Court is more than just a litmus test for marijuana policy; it’s a reflection of the state’s evolving political and social landscape. As we await the court’s ruling, we’re left to ponder the future of Florida’s pot policy and the broader implications for the state’s identity. Will Florida emerge as the frontier of progressive drug policy, or will it remain steadfast in its conservative roots, keeping recreational marijuana at bay at the behest of business and tourism advocates?

In the end, whether you’re rolling a joint or rolling your eyes at the thought, the court’s decision promises to spark a conversation – and perhaps opposition – that extends well beyond the realm of recreational marijuana. But in the event that the issue goes to voters in November, the bigger question looming is whether or not the state’s natural opponents to recreational marijuana will even bother to get off the couch in time to put up a fight.


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