Florida Court OK’s Canna Initiative

Florida voters will have their say on whether recreational marijuana should be legal

On April 1, 2024, the Florida Supreme Court gave the green light to a ballot initiative to legalize adult-use marijuana. The court’s 5-2 opinion, penned by Justice Grosshans, brings an end to years of judicial hairsplitting that saw earlier legalization proposals derailed. At long last, Florida voters will have their say on whether recreational marijuana should be legal in the Sunshine State.

As Justice Grosshans explained, the court’s role was limited to assessing “whether the amendment conforms to the constitutionally mandated single-subject requirement, whether the ballot summary meets the statutory standard for clarity, and whether the amendment is facially invalid under the federal constitution.” With regard to the first consideration, the court found that the initiative’s components “have a natural and logical connection,” hence meeting the single-subject requirement.

The court then turned to the ballot initiative summary, which must use “clear and unambiguous language.” According to the summary, the proposed amendment “allows Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, and other state licensed entities” (emphasis added) to sell marijuana. Opponents of the initiative argued that this language is misleading, as it would suggest that “other state licensed entities” would immediately be allowed to sell marijuana, when in fact they would first have to undergo licensure. The court shot down this argument, noting that “the most natural reading of the word ‘allow’ suggests that other entities will be permitted to enter the market, subject to a state-licensing process” (emphasis added).

Finally, the court turned to a recent amendment that required it to consider “whether the proposed amendment is facially invalid under the United States Constitution.” In the court’s view, “in order for a facial challenge to succeed, we must find that a law would be unconstitutional in all of its applications” (emphasis in original). Declining to make such a “broad finding,” the court noted that “a detailed analysis of the potential conflict between sections of this amendment and federal law is a task far afield from the core purpose of this advisory proceeding under the Florida Constitution.”

The court’s pronouncements in the present case (and similar recent ones) have no doubt helped engross the state’s jurisprudence on the subject of ballot initiatives — though one wonders if future initiatives on subjects far less controversial than cannabis will trouble justices as much. For now, though, constitutional law issues can take a backseat, as Florida gears up for Election Day. While getting the initiative on the ballot has been no small task for supporters, as the judicial history demonstrates, an electoral challenge now lies ahead. For the amendment to pass, it must obtain 60% of votes, with polls suggesting it will go down to the wire. Yet, no matter what happens, and despite the best efforts of cannabis opponents, democracy has won this battle.

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