Advisory Opinion: Adult Use of Marijuana
In a 5-2 decision, the majority ruled the wording of the proposed amendment's summary was too misleading to be on the 2022 ballot. The ruling reads:
"The fact that the summary ... makes no mention of [the inconsistency between Florida law and federal law] could easily suggest to voters—misleadingly, to be sure—that there have been intervening changes to federal law..."
The language in question: “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.”
The activities that the proposed amendment would have legalized are a crime under federal law. The majority decided the word "permits" would mislead voters to think this state amendment would override federal law.
The majority points out that the proposed amendment explains in its details the activities would be legal "under Florida law". But they argue the summary needed to explicitly state that it only applied to Florida law (or that citizens would not be immune to federal law).
They dismissed all of the sponsor's arguments, which they said "largely sidestep the relevant issue".
Dissent: Justice Labarga
Labarga disagrees with the decision without a written explanation.
Dissent: Justice Lawson
"Today’s decision underestimates Florida voters and adds hurdles to the citizen-initiative process that are not supported by the plain language of the governing law or our precedent."
In his dissent, Lawson argues that the Court is meant to follow precedent unless it conflicts with the law. He feels it's especially important in the context of a citizen-initiative. He notes that Sponsors rely on Court precedent when drafting a proposed amendment. They spend a lot of money and time to get enough signatures to be reviewed by the Court. If the Court rejects it, the Sponsor can't make adjustments. They must start over and are delayed by years. If the Court uses inconsistent logic it can impede on the right of self-governance.
He says that the majority's logic goes against long-standing precedent. Previously, the Florida Supreme Court rulings:
- have assumed voters have basic knowledge of government and law. He argues one of the most basic principles of our government is that state law can't override federal law.
- have expected voters to look at the details of an amendment before voting. In the details, voters would confirm it only impacts Florida law.
- have not required a proposed amendment's summary to state the impact on federal law.
Considering precedent, Lawson says the majority's argument does not follow logic. The missing explicit text acknowledging federal law is not a requirement. It only needs to accurately address the impact on state law, which it does.
As the Attorney General admits (and the majority didn't challenge), the word “permit” is accurate about how it would change Florida law. Lawson argues the word "permit" would only confuse a person who didn't know a state law can't override a federal law. He would have approved this proposed amendment for the 2022 ballot.
Make It Legal Florida sponsored a petition to add an amendment to the 2022 ballot. The proposed amendment would have made marijuana legal for personal use for adults over 21. It also would have: Allowed dispensaries to sell marijuana to adults. Blocked advertising to minors and marijuana use in certain public places. Kept limitations on marijuana use in certain circumstances.
Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the Court if the petition is valid. Does the petition comply with the the Florida Constitution's single-subject requirement? Does the ballot title and summary comply with the clarity requirements of the Florida Statutes?
Arguments against the petition were submitted by: Moody, the Florida Senate, the Florida House of Representatives, the Drug Free America Foundation/the Florida Coalition Alliance/National Families in Action/Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce/Floridians Against Recreational Marijuana/Save Our Society from Drugs/the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance. Arguments supporting the petition were submitted by the petition's sponsor, Make It Legal Florida.
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