FL Atty. Gen. Given Extension to Argue For Exclusion of Cannabis Reform Initiative on 2024 Ballot

FL Atty. Gen. Given Extension to Argue For Exclusion of Cannabis Reform Initiative on 2024 Ballot

The state's Supreme Court granted the request despite protests from advocates for the marijuana legalization effort in Florida.

The legal back and forth regarding a ballot initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis in Florida continues as both sides gear up for a momentous and potentially historic decision by the state's highest court next month. At issue is whether or not the measure meets the Florida Constitution's single-subject rule, which requires ballot proposals to be narrow in focus on an individual issue and not be misleading to voters at the ballot box.


Last month, the state's Attorney General, Ashley Moody (R), submitted a brief outlining her reasoning for excluding the marijuana legalization initiative from the 2024 ballot. The crux of her argument to invalidate the cannabis reform initiative is wholly predicated on how the ballot summary is written, which she contends is affirmatively misleading to voters on several grounds.


In that brief, Moody states, "In short, the Adult Personal Use of Marijuana amendment asks voters to make consequential changes to Florida's Constitution yet is not honest with them about what those changes would be. The initiative should be stricken."


"In short, the Adult Personal Use of Marijuana amendment asks voters to make consequential changes to Florida's Constitution yet is not honest with them about what those changes would be. The initiative should be stricken."

- Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R)


Advocates for the legalization measure, most notably the "Smart & Safe Florida" political committee, which has raised over $40 million and collected more than the 891,059 verified signatures required to get the initiative on the 2024 ballot, are more than confident they have thoroughly vetted the proposal and believe the court will validate their argument that it complies with all constitutional requirements.


To that end, both sides are furiously preparing legal briefs to file with the Supreme Court to support their legal positions. According to Marijuana Moment, as part of that somewhat time-consuming and tedious process, the Attorney General's office requested and received a one-week extension to file its response brief to one filed by the pro-legalization Florida ACLU.


The court had previously given Moody's office a two-week extension to file her initial brief detailing her opposition to the measure. Her latest request for more time explained that her office was preoccupied with fundamental administrative tasks and filing briefs in two unrelated court cases. She also pointed out that the court had already granted the Florida ACLU a two-day extension in filing its brief.


"As a result, the current deadline gives the opponents just three business days to respond to the arguments in that brief," the motion said.


"As a result, the current deadline gives the opponents just three business days to respond to the arguments in that brief."

- Motion for Extension to File Brief by Attorney General's Office


As a show of good faith, Moody did communicate the extension request with the Smart & Safe Florida campaign, which opposed the one-week but said they would agree to a two-day delay. To their surprise and dismay, the court granted the Attorney General's total request, extending the deadline for a reply brief to August 2.


Once the final briefs are filed, the court will convene to hear arguments and ultimately decide whether the initiative meets the rigorous standards for inclusion on the 2024 ballot. Even if the court sides with the campaign, it would still need at least 60 percent of Florida voters to approve the measure for it to pass. Current polling indicates that it would most likely, but narrowly, receive the required votes to become law.


If it does pass, the measure would alter the state Constitution to allow current medical marijuana companies in the state to begin selling recreational cannabis to all adults over 21. One of those companies is Trulieve, Florida's largest provider of medical marijuana and the primary financial backer of the Smart and Safe Florida Campaign - to the tune of $39 million.


That blatant conflict of interest is also a concerning issue for cannabis reform and social equity advocates, as well as many small business entrepreneurs eager to participate in the potentially massive legal adult-use marijuana industry in Florida.


While the initiative does contain a provision allowing state legislators to initiate action toward approving additional businesses to receive licensing to sell, it does not explicitly require it, meaning Florida's recreational market would effectively become a monopoly controlled by large and deep-pocketed multi-state operators like Trulieve. Likewise, the proposal would not permit home cultivation by consumers as currently drafted.


The Florida battle is eerily similar to a scenario voters in Arkansas faced this past election cycle when a similar constitutional amendment initiative went on the ballot in 2022. In that case, a groundswell of opposition to the proposal ultimately defeated efforts on the part of that state's medical marijuana establishment to create a system very similar to the one offered by Trulieve's funded campaign.


Ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court will have the final say. If history indicates future behavior, those supporting the ballot initiative should be nervous. The Adult Personal Use of Marijuana Amendment is the third to go before the court for approval in the past two years.


The two previous proposed measures submitted by Make It Legal Florida and Sensible Florida in 2021 failed to meet the criteria for the court and were rejected. However, the third time might be the charm for advocates of legalization. The next few weeks should provide an intriguing watch for all invested parties in the Florida marijuana saga.