The Florida Supreme Court on Monday granted the state attorney general’s request for more time to file a brief arguing why voters should not get a chance to decide on a marijuana legalization initiative on the 2024 ballot.
On the same day that Attorney General Ashely Moody (R)—whose office is seeking to invalidate the cannabis measure—filed a motion seeking the one-week extension, the court agreed to the delay.
The attorney general—as well as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Drug Free America Foundation—told the court that they had “numerous other responsibilities during the relevant period.” The official also previously requested a two-week deadline extension for initial briefs that the court granted.
Moody’s latest request noted that her office is tied up with fundamental administrative tasks, as well as filing briefs in two other unrelated court cases. Also, it pointed out that the court allowed ACLU of Florida to file its own brief two days after the last response deadline for supporters of the legalization measure.
“As a result, the current deadline gives the opponents just three business days to respond to the arguments in that brief,” the motion said.
Overall, Moody is arguing that the way the initiative’s ballot summary is written is affirmatively misleading to voters on several grounds, which she says is grounds to invalidate the proposal
The attorney general’s office said that they discussed the deadline extension request with the Smart & Safe Florida campaign, which opposed a one-week extension but would accept a shorter two-day delay. Instead, the court granted the full request, making the deadline for a reply brief August 2.
“Multiple extensions of time for the same filing are discouraged,” the court said on Monday. “Absent extenuating circumstances, subsequent requests may be denied.”
State officials have already affirmed that the campaign collected enough valid signatures to secure ballot placement.
Despite the attorney general’s opinion, activists say that they’ve thoroughly vetted the measure and are confident the court will agree that it complies with constitutional requirements.
Moody made the same argument against a 2022 legalization measure, and the Supreme Court subsequently invalidated it.
In order to get on the ballot, an initiative must have valid signatures from registered voters totaling at least eight percent of the district-wide vote in the most recent presidential election in at least 14 of the state’s 28 congressional districts—in addition to the statewide number needed. The marijuana campaign has met the threshold in exactly 14 districts, according to the recently updated state data.
The marijuana company Trulieve has contributed more than $39 million to the Smart & Safe Florida campaign to date.
If approved, the measure would change the state Constitution to allow existing medical cannabis companies in the state like Trulieve to begin selling marijuana to all adults over 21. It contains a provision that would allow—but not require—lawmakers to take steps toward the approval of additional businesses. Home cultivation by consumers would not be allowed under the proposal as drafted.
Adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, only five grams of which could be marijuana concentrate products. The three-page measure also omits equity provisions favored by advocates such as expungements or other relief for people with prior cannabis convictions.
Separately, economic analysts from the Florida legislature and the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) estimate that the marijuana legalization initiative would generate between $195.6 million and $431.3 million in new sales tax revenue annually if voters enact it. And those figures could increase considerably if lawmakers opted to impose an additional excise tax on cannabis transactions that’s similar to the ones in place in other legalized states.
A poll published in March found that 70 percent of Florida voters support legalizing marijuana. Florida voters approved a medical cannabis constitutional amendment in 2016.
Here’s what the Smart & Safe Florida marijuana legalization initiative would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis for personal use. The cap for marijuana concentrates would be five grams.
Medical cannabis dispensaries could “acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute marijuana products and marijuana accessories to adults for personal use.”
The legislature would be authorized—but not required—to approve additional entities that are not currently licensed cannabis dispensaries.
The initiative specifies that nothing in the proposal prevents the legislature from “enacting laws that are consistent with this amendment.”
The amendment further clarifies that nothing about the proposal “changes federal law,” which seems to be an effort to avoid past legal challenges about misleading ballot language.
There are no provisions for home cultivation, expungement of prior records or social equity.
The measure would take effect six months following approval by voters.
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Here’s the full text of the ballot title and summary:
“Allows adults 21 years or older to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products and marijuana accessories for non-medical personal consumption by smoking, ingestion, or otherwise; allows Medical Marijuana 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 change, or immunize violations of, federal law. Establishes possession limits for personal use. Allows consistent legislation. Defines terms. Provides effective date.”
Should the initiative make the 2024 ballot, at least 60 percent of Florida voters would have to approve the measure for it to be enacted.
An earlier poll released in 2021 found that a majority of Florida voters (59 percent) support legalizing cannabis for adult use, so that’s a slim margin that shows that advocates will have their work cut out for them if the measure qualifies.
Meanwhile, activists that aren’t directly involved in the Smart & Safe Florida campaign said last year that they were exploring plans to have voters decide on what they hope will be a complementary measure permitting adults to grow their own cannabis at home.
The legalization campaign shouldn’t expect to receive support from DeSantis, a Republican 2024 presidential candidate, who said at a recent event that he would not move to federally decriminalize cannabis if elected.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.