Florida AG Says No Recreational Weed in Florida Because, Well, Technically, Weed is Illegal in America

July 7, 2023 · Cannabis.net

The Attorney General of Florida has presented a document to the state Supreme Court outlining her justifications for preventing a marijuana legalization proposal from appearing on the 2024 ballot. Alongside her, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and an anti-drug organization have also filed documents opposing the initiative. Notably, most of this measure’s funding is provided by Trulieve, a cannabis company operating in multiple states.

Attorney General Argues Ballot Summary of Cannabis Measure is Misleading to Voters

Following a court-granted extension of two weeks, Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) submitted the initial brief before the Monday deadline. As anticipated, her office is once again making efforts to invalidate the cannabis measure, asserting that its ballot summary is intentionally misleading for several reasons, thereby confusing voters.

One of the key points raised by Moody is the failure of the initiative to adequately disclose that marijuana would continue to be illegal under federal law. According to her brief, previous court decisions regarding earlier legalization proposals failed to recognize the necessity of providing clear guidance to voters before they are asked to eliminate state-level penalties for possessing a substance that could potentially subject them to severe criminal consequences under federal jurisdiction.

The brief further emphasizes the importance of clarity due to the prevalence of misinformation in the media and the sponsor’s promotion of the initiative, asserting that it amplifies the need for accurate information to be conveyed to voters.

Attorney General Argues Misleading Aspects of the Cannabis Measure

The attorney general’s second point of contention revolves around the alleged misleading nature of the measure. It suggests that the measure falsely indicates that it would directly increase the number of available consumer retailers. In contrast, its effect is to maintain the legislature’s authority to expand retail operations, with no guarantee that lawmakers will choose.

Because increasing competition in the marijuana market will reduce retail costs and raise the standard and professionalism of producers and merchants, the brief emphasizes that Floridians would probably be worried about this issue. The proposed amendment would not change the fact that only Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs) are now permitted to engage in the marijuana trade in Florida; nonetheless, it is made clear that this situation will remain unchanged.

Moreover, the ballot summary is criticized for “misleading” reasonable voters by implying that the measure limits the immunity to possessing up to three ounces of cannabis. The brief argues that it would impose specific penalties for possession exceeding the allowable amount and restrict the legislature’s ability to raise the limit. The measure’s language would effectively result in prohibiting most, if not all, marijuana cultivation within the state.

The brief further contends that by limiting personal possession of marijuana to three ounces, the amendment favors corporate interests, such as Trulieve, in solidifying their dominance in the marijuana market. Prohibiting the possession of quantities exceeding three ounces would make it challenging, if not impossible, for individuals to cultivate marijuana for personal use or for the consumption of their friends and family, thereby compelling users to rely solely on the retail marketplace.

Lastly, the attorney general asserts that the proposal is misleading in failing to disclose that the Department of Health would lack the same constitutional regulatory authority over recreational marijuana as it currently has over medical marijuana. It also neglects to mention that there would be a substantial period during which medical cannabis dispensaries engage in the unregulated trade of recreational marijuana.

In conclusion, the attorney general’s office argues that the Adult Personal Use of Marijuana amendment seeks significant changes to Florida’s Constitution but does not provide honest information to voters about the nature and consequences of those changes. As a result, the initiative should be invalidated.

Challenges to the Cannabis Legalization Initiative and Signature Qualification

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce has presented a distinct brief challenging the initiative’s constitutionality by arguing that it violates the requirement for single-subject ballot measures. The chamber asserts that the proposal unlawfully combines the subjects of decriminalization and commercialization of recreational marijuana.

The Drug-Free America Foundation, a non-profit organization, has also submitted a brief arguing that the initiative is facially invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, as it conflicts with federal law.

State officials declared earlier this month that the legalization issue had amassed enough valid signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot thanks to the efforts of the Smart & Safe Florida campaign. The number of validated signatures had above the necessary level of 891,523 as of the end of May, according to the Florida Division of Elections, which publishes updates on petition tallies.

In January, the measure successfully cleared a significant initial hurdle by obtaining enough signatures to initiate a review of the measure’s language by the state Supreme Court. However, the attorney general’s office is now challenging the language through an initial filing submitted by Moody last month.

Despite the attorney general’s objections, activists assert that they have thoroughly examined the measure and are confident that the court will agree it meets constitutional requirements.

It is worth noting that Moody made a similar argument against a legalization measure in 2022, which the Supreme Court subsequently invalidated. With the initial brief now filed, reply briefs are expected to be submitted by July 19 and 26, according to the extended timeline.

To qualify for the ballot, an initiative must gather valid signatures from registered voters, amounting to at least 8 percent of the district-wide vote in at least 14 of the state’s 28 congressional districts, and meet the statewide signature requirement. The marijuana campaign has met the threshold in exactly 14 districts, per the recently updated state data.

Bottom Line

The Attorney General of Florida, supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the Drug-Free America Foundation, seeks to prevent a marijuana legalization initiative from appearing on the 2024 ballot. The Attorney General argues that the measure’s ballot summary needs to be more accurate and disclose crucial information to voters. Challenges to the initiative’s constitutionality have also been raised. However, the Smart & Safe Florida campaign has successfully gathered enough valid signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot. The next steps involve the submission of reply briefs and the court’s decision on the matter. As the legal battle unfolds, the fate of marijuana legalization in Florida hangs in the balance. (Full Story)

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