Those fighting for the legalization of recreational use of marijuana in the Sunshine State suffered a serious setback last week in what has been a high-profile campaign backed largely by the cannabis industry.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 decision that a ballot initiative launched the “Make it Legal Florida” advocacy group was misleading in its language, a move that represents a major setback for those seeking to decriminalize relatively low-level marijuana use in the state.
The ballot proposal would have given Floridians the opportunity to determine whether state residents age 21 and older would be able to legally possess and use no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Proponents of the measure to amend the state constitution sought its inclusion on the ballot in 2022 and had succeeded in raising $8.2 million in support of the effort and securing a substantial number of the signatures required, the Times noted.
However, five justices on the high court found that the way in which the word “permit” was used in the initiative’s language was problematic in that it did not provide sufficient explanation to prospective voters that while the proposal would legalize this type of marijuana use within Florida, it would not override existing federal prohibitions, according to The Hill.
Chief Justice Charles Canady explained the conundrum in the written opinion in the case, stating, “A constitutional amendment cannot unequivocally ‘permit’ or authorize conduct that is criminalized under federal law,” adding, “a ballot summary suggesting otherwise is affirmatively misleading.”
The Times reported that three of the high court’s justices appointed by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis voted to strike the marijuana initiative, and the Republican state House and Senate filed briefs in the case in opposition to the measure. Florida medical marijuana advocate Ben Pollara expressed frustration with the outcome, saying, “Floridians would legalize marijuana tomorrow if given the opportunity to do so, but that’s clearly not what Tallahassee wants.”
By contrast, attitudes nationwide appear to be shifting on the issue, with no fewer than 17 states as well as the District of Columbia having already legalized use of marijuana for recreational purposes, as the Times noted, with 36 allowing its use for medical reasons. This is the case despite the fact that its use remains prohibited under federal statute.
Democrats in the U.S. Congress have also lent their voices to the cause of marijuana legalization, with Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reinforcing on Tuesday his earlier calls for and end to federal criminalization of the drug, as NBC News reports. Expressing his hope that marijuana is legalized at the federal level by this time next year, Schumer opined that the war on drugs in America has “too often been a war on people, particularly people of color.”
Time will tell whether congressional Democrats will indeed spend political capital on the highly debatable priority of decriminalizing drug use, but in the meantime, legalization proponents in Florida will have no choice but to go back to the drawing board.