In two years, Florida residents could have the ability to legalize recreational marijuana for people 21 and older. Getting the issue on the ballot requires the Florida Supreme Court to review the amendment’s ballot title and summary. Opponents argue justices should throw out the proposal due to a law signed in early April. It requires justices to consider whether the amendment jells with the U.S. Constitution.
“The ballot summary tells voters that the proposed amendment quote ‘permits the possession, use, purchase, and sale of marijuana,’ says Amit Agarwal, the lawyer representing the Florida Attorney General’s office. “The problem is that if the proposed constitutional amendment were adopted, it would not permit those things. It’s undisputed that federal law makes it a crime.”
Agarwal argues that makes the ballot summary misleading. Make it Legal Florida is championing the amendment. George Levesque is representing the group in court. He says it’s implied that changes to Florida’s constitution do not affect federal law:
“This court has never found [the] affirmative obligation to inform a voter of what is going on with federal law. Either the status of federal law or the effect.”
The new law also increases the number of signatures required to put a proposed amendment before the Florida Supreme Court. How many names are needed is based on how many people vote in a presidential election. Since that number changes from election to election, Jeremiah Hawkes, a lawyer representing the Florida Senate, argues the court shouldn’t even review the proposal until the November 2020 election is over:
“We don’t know what those thresholds are and in the absence of that knowledge, I think it would be appropriate for the court to remand this back to the Secretary of State to be recertified when the new thresholds are established and so that any new initiatives that meet the new thresholds can be certified to the court at that point in time.”
Opponents are also raising concerns that the proposed amendment combines multiple issues. The initiative would allow medical marijuana treatment centers to sell marijuana for recreational use. Jason Gonzalez represents several anti-drug advocacy groups and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He argues allowing medical marijuana treatment centers to sell the drug for recreation is a separate issue from allowing people to use it, and shouldn’t be included in the same amendment:
“Subsections b1 and b2 are separate disparate subjects that have been logrolled together in violation of the single-subject rule in the state’s constitution and the court’s logrolling precedent.”
Gonzalez argues some people could want marijuana legalized for recreational use but wouldn’t want storefronts selling the drug. He says putting the two items in one amendment means voters can’t make a separate decision on each issue. Levesque counters that it makes sense to tie the two points together because adults will have to buy marijuana from somewhere legally:
“At some level, if you’re going to decriminalize the substance, it makes sense to link that decriminalization with the ability to obtain it from somebody lawfully, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
Levesque explains under the proposal, treatment centers don’t have to sell marijuana for recreational use if they don’t want to. However, if they choose to, the centers must sell the drug in child-proof packaging that is clearly labeled.