In a 5-2 decision, justices ruled a constitutional ballot initiative by Make it Legal Florida to be “misleading.” The ruling came after Attorney General Ashley Moody asked for the court to advise whether the potential constitutional initiative would be suitable for a future ballot.
Make It Legal’s proposal would have left it up to Florida voters to decide whether to allow Floridians older than 21 to possess and use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The initiative’s sponsor had raised $8.2 million for the effort and had gathered more than 556,000 signatures out of the 891,589 needed for it to make the 2022 ballot. Had it made the ballot, the provision would have needed 60% of the vote to be added to the state Constitution.
If it wants to make a future ballot, Make It Legal would now have to redraft its amendment and start from scratch.
In an opinion written by Chief Justice Charles Canady, a majority of justices took issue with Make it Legal Florida’s use of the word “permit” in the initiative’s ballot summary. The justices argued that the amendment did not effectively advise Floridians that although marijuana use would be allowed under Florida law if the amendment were to pass, it would still be illegal federally.
“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.”
Similar issues have previously come before the Florida Supreme Court. When it was considering whether to allow an amendment legalizing medical marijuana onto the 2016 ballot, the backers of that initiative avoided this pitfall. The measure’s sponsors noted in their ballot summary that the medical marijuana measure did not “immunize” Floridians from “violations of federal law.”
Ben Pollara, who ran the 2016 medical marijuana campaign, said the court’s decision Thursday reflected the body’s shift rightward under Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Republican governor has made three appointments to the court, each of whom voted to strike Make It Legal Florida’s initiative from the amendment. The Florida House and Florida Senate — both controlled by Republicans — also filed briefs to the court opposing the initiative.
“Floridians would legalize marijuana tomorrow if given the opportunity to do so, but that’s clearly not what Tallahassee wants,” Pollara said in a statement. Justices approved that ballot’s language unanimously, and 71% of the electorate voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2016.