Florida High Court Stops Bid to Legalize Marijuana

Florida High Court Stops Bid to Legalize Marijuana marijuana plant (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

By Jeffrey Rodack | Friday, 23 April 2021 12:37 PM

The Florida Supreme Court has all but killed an effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the Sunshine State.

According to the Miami Herald, justices ruled on Thursday that a constitutional ballot initiative by the Make It Legal Florida group was "misleading." The 5-2 decision came after Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the court to advise whether the initiative would be suitable in the future.

Under the group’s proposal, Florida voters would decide whether to allow state residents older than 21 to possess and use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana.

"It’s unfortunate because I think Floridians would legalize marijuana for adult use tomorrow if given the opportunity," Ben Pollara, a supporter of the move who helped run 2016's successful medical marijuana initiative, told the Orlando Sentinel. "But the reality is that with this decision, combined with the recent [proposed] changes to the law … the chances of seeing something on the 2022 ballot are basically zero. And the chances of seeing something on a future ballot are also pretty damn close to zero."

Opponents of the initiative "note that the proposed amendment itself states that it would only remove criminal and civil liability for the identified conduct ‘under Florida law,’" the justices wrote. "They thus argue that the … unqualified use of the word ‘[p]ermits’ affirmatively misleads voters into believing that the recreational use of marijuana in Florida will be free of any repercussions, criminal or otherwise."

The justices added: "We agree."

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Charles Canady, the justices argued that the amendment did not effectively advise Floridians that, although marijuana use would be allowed under state law if the amendment were to pass, it would still be illegal on the federal level.

"A constitutional amendment cannot unequivocally ‘permit’ or authorize conduct that is criminalized under federal law," Canady wrote. "A ballot summary suggesting otherwise is affirmatively misleading."

The Herald noted that Make It Legal Florida — which has the backing of major medical marijuana companies — raised $8.2 million to fund the effort.

More than 556,000 signatures had already been collected of the 891,589 needed for the measure to make the 2022 ballot.

Had it been approved for the ballot, the initiative would have had to get 60% of the vote to be added to the state Constitution, the Herald reported.

Make It Legal Florida must now re-draft the amendment, essentially starting from scratch, if the group wants to try again on a future ballot.

Three justices appointed by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis were among the majority that voted to strike down Make It Legal Florida’s initiative, according to the Herald. The Florida House and Florida Senate — both under Republican control — had filed briefs with the court opposing the initiative.