Florida Supreme Court Nixes Pot Legalization Initiative, Worrying That Voters Might Think It Repeals Federal Prohibition
The Florida Supreme Court today nixed a proposed 2022 marijuana legalization initiative, saying the ballot summary “misleads voters into believing that the recreational use of marijuana in Florida will be free of any repercussions, criminal or otherwise.” That highly implausible reading is based on the assumption that Florida voters would believe they had the power to change federal law by approving a state ballot initiative.
The ballot summary for the Florida Marijuana Legalization and Medical Marijuana Treatment Center Sales Initiative says it “permits adults 21 years or older to possess, use, purchase, display, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and marijuana accessories for personal use for any reason.” Not so, the court says in a 5–2 advisory opinion, since such conduct would still be prohibited by federal law. In reality, the initiative only eliminates civil and criminal penalties under state law.
“A constitutional amendment cannot unequivocally ‘permit’ or authorize conduct that is criminalized under federal law,” the majority says. “And a ballot summary suggesting otherwise is affirmatively misleading.”
That view jibes with the position taken by Florida’s Republican attorney general, Ashley Moody, who sought the advisory opinion. “This initiative suggests to voters that their vote will allow for conduct that will remain illegal with significant penalties,” she said.
Under the standard favored by Moody and the court, the ballot summaries for many legalization initiatives that voters in other states have approved in the last decade likewise were “affirmatively misleading.” Colorado’s 2012 initiative, the first successful measure of its kind, was described as “permitting a person twenty-one years of age or older to consume or possess limited amounts of marijuana.” The summary for Alaska’s 2014 initiative said it “would allow a person to possess, use, show, buy, transport, or grow set amounts of marijuana.”
California’s 2016 initiative purported to achieve “marijuana legalization,” which according to the Florida Supreme Court was blatantly inaccurate in light of continued federal prohibition. Michigan’s 2018 initiative aimed to “authorize and legalize possession, use and cultivation of marijuana products by individuals who are at least 21 years of age.” Voters who approved Arizona’s 2020 initiative wer
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