Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) says a marijuana legalization initiative will be on the state’s November ballot, predicting a favorable legal outcome for activists in the Supreme Court in the face of a challenge from the attorney general who is seeking to block the vote.
Days before dropping out of the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, DeSantis was asked about the prospect of legalization making the Florida ballot by cannabis lobbyist Don Murphy.
“I think the court is going to approve that,” the governor said at his final campaign event in New Hampshire on Friday, “so it’ll be on the ballot.”
It’s not clear if DeSantis has received some indication from the court about the status of the case, which is still weighing the legal challenge from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R), or if he is just making a prediction based on the issues at play.
Moody has asked the court to invalidate the measure, despite activists collecting nearly one million signatures for ballot placement. The state official previously successfully petitioned justices to prevent a 2022 legalization initiative from receiving voter consideration.
That won’t be the case this round, according to the governor. While he opposes the reform—and pledged not to federally decriminalize marijuana if elected president when he was running—he says voters will get a chance to decide on the issue this time.
The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case against the Smart & Safe Florida campaign last November, but it has not issued a ruling yet. It will need to do so by April 1.
DeSantis also weighed in on another relevant cannabis policy issue last week when he separately told Murphy that he doesn’t believe the federal gun ban for state-legal marijuana consumers is constitutional. Florida’s former agriculture commission, Nikki Fried, brought a lawsuit against the Biden administration over the rule, though the governor did not get involved.
Prior to dropping out, DeSantis also said earlier this month that if elected president, he would “respect the decisions that states make” on marijuana legalization despite his personal view that the reform has a “negative impact.”
With respect to the legalization ballot measure, the Florida Chamber of Commerce released a poll this month showing that the reform proposal enjoys majority support from likely voters—but not quite enough to meet the state’s steep 60 percent threshold for passage.
That said, other previous polls have found that voters are well-positioned to pass the legalization initiative with more than enough support. For example, the University of North Florida put out a survey last month that showed 67 percent of voters back the proposal.
The multi-state marijuana company Trulieve has contributed more than $40 million to the Smart & Safe Florida campaign to date. The state attorney general has accused the company of supporting the measure in order to have a “monopolistic stranglehold” on the state’s cannabis market.
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.
Earlier this month, a Republican Florida lawmaker preemptively filed a bill that would impose strict limitations on THC potency if the legalization measure is approved by voters.
Meanwhile, Florida officials said last month that they arrested two paid canvassers charged with allegedly falsifying signatures on petitions to put the marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s 2024 ballot.
Economic analysts from the Florida legislature and DeSantis’s office 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.
But DeSantis has made clear he would not support the measure regardless of the economic potential. He also recently suggested that the increase in Florida’s medical cannabis patient population is partly due to people using the program as a “pretext” for recreational use.
Last summer, a law enacted by the governor took effect that added restrictions to medical marijuana advertising and manufacturing, prohibiting any products or messages that promote “recreational” cannabis use, while adding more stringent eligibility requirements for workers in the industry.
Additionally, the governor approved a bill in June that expressly prohibits sober living facilities from allowing residents to possess or use medical marijuana, even if the patient is certified by a doctor to legally use cannabis therapeutically in accordance with state law. All other doctor-prescribed pharmaceutical medications may be permitted, however.
He also signed legislation in July banning sales of any consumable hemp products—including cannabis “chewing gum”—to people under 21, an expansion of an existing prohibition on young people being able to purchase smokable hemp.
The organizer of a separate Florida ballot initiative to legalize home cultivation of medical marijuana by patients recently withdrew the proposal, explaining that the campaign raised barely more than $4,000 and couldn’t cover costs associated with trying to qualify the measure.
In the legislature, meanwhile, a Florida Republican senator introduced a bill last month to allow licensed medical cannabis businesses to take state tax deductions that they are barred from claiming at the federal level under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E. (Full Story)