FL Supreme Court blocks a second pro-pot citizens initiative from the 2022 ballot

FL Supreme Court blocks a second pro-pot citizens initiative from the 2022 ballot

Floridians won’t get to vote next year on whether to legalize recreational adult use of marijuana, subject to regulations like those controlling the alcohol market, because of a ruling Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court.

A citizen’s initiative to allow home cultivation of pot is ineligible to appear on the 2022 ballot, the court said, because the ballot summary of its terms — that is, the language voters would see on election day — is “affirmatively misleading” about how far the text of the proposed constitutional amendment would go.

The 5-2 ruling, written by Chief Justice Charles Canady, represents a victory for Attorney General Ashley Moody and business interests that petitioned the court to strike the proposal.

“We thank the Florida Supreme Court for their time and attention to this issue and respect their ruling. Floridians must fully understand what they are voting on when they go to the ballot box,” said Lauren Cassedy, spokeswoman for Moody.

Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor and a leading advocate for liberalized marijuana law, decried the ruling on her Twitter feed.

“Elected Republicans ignore our voices, suppress our votes, and make it harder to get citizen-led initiatives on the ballot. And our state’s highest court supports GOP directives with partisan rulings. I’m running for governor to break this corrupt system,” Fried wrote.

The amendment, sponsored by an organization called Sensible Florida, was the second the court kept off the 2022 ballot in less than a month. On April 22, the court did the same to an initiative sponsored by Make it Legal Florida on the same ground — that the ballot summary was misleading.

Michael Minardi, a Tampa lawyer representing Sensible Florida, did not respond to a request for comment.

Eighteen states have fully legalized recreational use of marijuana, according to the drug testing company DISA Global Solutions, although it remains illegal under federal law. Additional states, including Florida, allow medicinal use; others have decriminalized pot.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief supporting Moody’s position, as did the Florida House of Representatives and an array of anti-drug groups.

Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson issued a written statement praising the outcome.

“The Florida Chamber will fight in any venue — legislative, legal, or the court of public opinion — to keep Florida, Florida, and ensure efforts to utilize ballot initiatives to circumvent the appropriate legislative process are unsuccessful.”

The text of the initiative — titled “Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions,” would have legalized “possessing, using, displaying, purchasing, or transporting cannabis, and cannabis products in quantities reasonably indicative of personal use or for use by household members.”

It would have permitted people to grow “six mature flowering cannabis plants per household member 21 years of age or older and possessing the harvest therefrom, provided the growing takes place indoors or in a locked greenhouse and the cannabis grown is not made available for sale.”

Local governments of the state could have allowed and regulated outdoor growing.

The ballot summary reads as follows:

“Regulates marijuana (hereinafter “cannabis”) for limited use and growing by persons 21 years of age or older. State shall adopt regulations to issue, renew, suspend, and revoke licenses for cannabis cultivation, product manufacturing, testing and retail facilities. Local governments may regulate facilities’ time, place and manner and, if state fails to timely act, may license facilities. Does not affect compassionate use of low-THC cannabis, nor immunize federal law violations.”

The court majority seized on language in the text establishing that the amounts allowed “are minimum quantities, subject to increase by state, county, or municipal legislation, but not subject to decrease.”

The court continued:

“In other words, the proposed amendment establishes a quantity floor below which an age-eligible person cannot be prosecuted, while at the same time authorizing the state and local governments to permit unlimited personal use of recreational marijuana.

The majority added:

“In other words, it would be more accurate if the summary stated: “Regulates marijuana … for the potentially unlimited use … by persons 21 years of age or older [ellipses in the original] .” The summary instead misleadingly tells voters that the proposed amendment limits the use of marijuana.”

Justices Ricky Polston, Carlos Muñiz, John Couriel, and Jamie Grosshans signed the majority opinion.

In a dissent, Justice Alan Lawson, joined by Justice Jorge Labarga, conceded the summary might prove confusing, but not when read in the context of the initiative’s wording.

“The ballot title in this case reads: ‘Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions.’ And the amendment itself details the ways that marijuana use would be regulated similar to Florida’s current regulations affecting alcohol use,” Lewis wrote.

“Therefore, reading the title and summary together, ‘limited use’ could also be understood as a reference to the regulations disclosed in the aptly descriptive title. Read together in this way, the ballot title and summary do not disguise the measure as something else, or hide the ball as to the amendment’s true effect, and are not ‘clearly and conclusively defective,’ he wrote.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: [email protected] Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Feature Image credit DanTD, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Steep Hill, Pioneer of U.S. Cannabis Testing, to Open a Licensed Lab in Vermont
    Steep Hill, a leader in cannabis analytical testing, and the United States’ first commercial cannabis lab, expands with a new licensee partner into the state of Vermont. In 2004, Vermont legalized cannabis for medicinal use and more recently in 2020, Vermont became the 11th state to approve of adult use sales.
  • Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo returns to NYC in June
    Cannabis enthusiasts, investors and industry members will gather once again at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City for the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo from June 2 to 4, 2022. The three-day event will feature respected speakers, stimulating discussions and an expo floor with scores of cannabis businesses.
  • Last Prisoner Project: Taking Real Action to Help Cannabis Prisoners
    “It really remains a fundamental injustice,” said Stephen Post, of America’s criminalization of cannabis. “We’re really helping to try to turn around those injustices.” Post works as a campaign manager for Last Prisoner Project (LPP), a nonprofit assisting cannabis prisoners.
  • Cannabis advocates show support for planned MORE Act House vote
    As members of Congress announce that the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act will receive a floor vote next week, advocates are showing their support for the bill. With counterpart legislation expected soon in the Senate, groups like Marijuana Policy Project, NORML and Human Rights Watch have issued reports and statements.
  • Veteran-owned and operated cannabis company on a mission to heal
    Bryan Buckley founded Helmand Valley Growers Company (HVGC) out of a desire to share healing through cannabis. The chief executive told Profiles in Legalization how the cannabis industry found him during a February interview. He saw the damage being done by inadequate treatment of his fellow veterans.
  • Mississippi entrepreneurs face local “opt-out” bans of cannabis industry
    Despite voters overwhelmingly passing Initiative 65 to create a medical marijuana program in November 2020, the state supreme court struck it down on constitutional technicality. After months of uncertainty, Gov. Tate Reeves signed the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act into law in February 2022. Now, some local business people hoping to get a foothold in the industry are being blocked by their elected officials.