Recreational pot will be on Florida’s 2024 ballot

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By Dara Kam ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A divided Florida Supreme Court on Monday approved placing on the November ballot a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at allowing recreational use of marijuana.

Trulieve, the state’s largest medical marijuana company, has spent more than $40 million on the effort to get the proposed constitutional amendment before voters.

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office urged the court to reject the measure, arguing it would be misleading to voters and was not limited to a single subject as required by Florida law.

But the 5-2 decision, authored by Justice Jamie Grosshans, found that the proposal met the requirements under the court’s limited review.

“Our role is narrow — we assess only 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. In light of those limited considerations, we approve the proposed amendment for placement on the ballot,” Grosshans wrote.

The ruling drew immediate praise from marijuana companies and cannabis proponents.

“We are thankful that the court has correctly ruled the ballot initiative and summary language meets the standards for single subject and clarity. We look forward to supporting this campaign as it heads to the ballot this fall,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said.

The majority opinion rejected Moody’s argument that the proposal violated the single-subject requirement because it would both decriminalize and commercialize recreational marijuana.

“Allowing businesses to distribute personal-use marijuana, and authorizing individuals to possess it, are logically and naturally related as part of a dominant plan or scheme. Legalization of marijuana presumes the product will be available for the consumer. Likewise, the sale of personal-use marijuana cannot be reasonably undertaken while possession is criminalized,” wrote Grosshans, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020.

Proponents of the measure argued they relied on the court’s own “roadmap” in prior marijuana rulings to craft the proposal.

But Justices Meredith Sasso and Renatha Francis sharply disagreed with the majority opinion, writing in separate dissents that the proposal failed to meet requirements.

Sasso, who was appointed by DeSantis last year, said the amendment violated the single-subject requirement and is misleading because it would allow the state’s medical marijuana operators to participate in the recreational market. The state also could authorize other sellers, under the amendment.

“Instead, and as the full text of the initiative provides, there is an intervening step that may never materialize: the Legislature must decide to provide for the licensure of ‘other’ entities first,” Sasso wrote.

Sasso also argued that the part of the amendment saying it would allow adults to use marijuana is “false” because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

“A state has no power to authorize its residents to participate in conduct that would constitute a federal crime,” she wrote.

Francis, who was appointed by DeSantis in 2022, went further, saying that the court should draw a narrower line around the single-subject requirement than it has in the past.

“As it relates to this case, personal use and commercialization of marijuana aren’t even two sides of the same coin. If the matters directly connected to the ‘subjects’ are different, it’s plain to me that the subjects themselves are different,” Francis wrote. “At bottom, using marijuana as an individual and growing it for commercial sale and consumption implicate different criminal and regulatory schemes.”

Francis also warned against allowing the recreational marijuana proposal to advance.

“Aren’t we incentivizing citizen groups to generalize their topics to such a degree they will always evade the single-subject limitation?” she posited.

In a concurring opinion, Grosshans acknowledged that the court’s precedents on the single-subject issues may have been “erratic.”

“Though greater consistency is a laudable goal, I do not think that adopting a more restrictive approach guarantees achievement of that goal, especially when broad terms still exist under her formulation of the test,” she wrote.

Chief Justice Carlos Muniz also wrote a concurring opinion, saying the court in the future should require backers of proposed amendments to pay closer attention to the requirement that they comply with the U.S. Constitution.

The proposal will appear on the November ballot eight years after Florida voters approved an amendment broadly authorizing medical marijuana, and as the state’s medical cannabis industry continues to flourish. Nearly 900,000 patients currently are eligible for medical marijuana, and the number continues to climb.

The recreational proposal will require support from 60 percent of voters to pass.

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said the issue will be “up to the voters” but isn’t needed.

“But the problem with some of these constitutional amendments is, it’s all rainbows and unicorns because it’s drafted by proponents. Which, in the case of both abortion and marijuana, it looks innocuous, but then you start asking yourself, well, can you smoke on a child’s playground, can you smoke in an elevator? Things that we’ve restricted when cigarettes are concerned,” Renner told reporters Monday afternoon. “And again, the marijuana amendment is overly broad, to serve the self-interest of those who are going to grow it and make billions and billions of dollars off of it.”

Brady Cobb, CEO of medical marijuana operator Sunburn Cannabis, called Monday’s ruling “a historic day” for the state.

“As the son of a convicted cannabis smuggler who operated in Florida, this ruling is personal for me and for so many other native Floridians who have felt the impacts of the war on the cannabis plant. Now, it’s time to get the Florida electorate educated on this important issue. I also want to thank the amendment sponsors for all of the hard work they put in to make this ruling a reality,” Cobb, a lawyer, said in a statement.

Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, called the Florida recreational proposal “one of the most important cannabis legalization campaigns” in recent years.

“We have the opportunity to end the injustice of cannabis prohibition for over 22 million Americans,” Schweich said in a statement.

Trulieve — the largest of the state’s 25 licensed medical marijuana operators — contributed all but $124.58 of the $40,050,124.58 collected by the Smart & Safe Florida political committee, which sponsored the ballot proposal. The committee met a requirement for submitting nearly 900,000 petition signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. The court heard arguments on the proposal in November but did not issue a ruling until Monday’s constitutional deadline for justices to act.

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