The Florida Supreme Court found itself in the middle of a crucial debate surrounding the cannabis legalization initiative slated for the state’s 2024 ballot. At the heart of this highly technical debate were divergent semantic and legal interpretations presented by the attorney general’s office and the campaign Smart & Safe Florida at the origin of the initiative
The Supreme Court’s decision will determine whether Florida voters will have a chance to weigh in on the issue.
Semantic and legal battle
One of the main arguments made by Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office concerned the allegedly misleading nature of the initiative’s summary, limited to 75 words:
“Allows adults aged 21 or older to possess, purchase, or use cannabis products and accessories for personal, non-medical consumption, through smoking, ingesting, or otherwise; permits medical cannabis treatment centers and other state-licensed entities to acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute such products and accessories. Applies to Florida law; does not modify or immunize violations of federal law. Establishes possession limits for personal use. Allows for consistent legislation. Defines terms. Provides for an effective date.”
Specifically, potential ambiguity surrounding the licensing of cannabis businesses was raised, which would suggest the language misleads voters about the potential expansion of entities licensed to sell recreational cannabis. Although the initiative hints at the possibility of new licenses, it does not explicitly detail the legislative steps required for their approval.
Another significant point of disagreement emerged regarding the interaction between the proposed amendment and federal law. The debate surrounding the initiative’s wording focused on whether it adequately addressed the federal legality of cannabis. That sparked a back-and-forth over whether the language introduced confusion or simply reflected existing uncertainty regarding federal laws.
Another critical argument centered on the Florida Constitution’s single purpose rule for ballot measures. The argument made was that the initiative, by making two fundamental changes to the organic law, ran counter to state constitutional provisions that call for a single focus in ballot initiatives.
Responsibility of voters
Defenders of the initiative emphasized adherence to the Court’s previous guidelines and emphasized voters’ responsibility in interpreting ballot language. They also supported the importance of not misleading voters and preserving the intent of citizen initiatives to change state organic laws.
The Florida Supreme Court’s decision will carry considerable weight in determining the fate of the ballot measure and must now issue its decision. Moody, the state attorney general, made the same argument regarding the misleading wording of a 2022 legalization measure. The Supreme Court later struck it down.
What does Florida’s cannabis legalization initiative propose?
This is what the initiative offers Smart & Safe Florida for the legalization of cannabis:
- Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis (84 grams) for personal use. The cap for marijuana concentrates would be five grams
- Medical cannabis dispensaries could “acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell and distribute cannabis products and accessories to adults for their personal use”
- The Legislature would be allowed – but not required – to approve additional entities that are not currently licensed cannabis dispensaries
- There are no provisions for home cultivation, expungement of previous criminal records or social equity
- The measure would take effect six months after voters approve it.