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Florida Votes 2024

If Florida Supreme Court approves cannabis ballot language, will voters go for recreational weed or not?

24 states have legalized recreational weed, but the batting average is spotty when the measure has gone to the voters in recent years


The long wait on whether Floridians will get a chance to vote to legalize recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older is almost over, as the Florida Supreme Court is on a hard deadline to rule on the proposed constitutional amendment’s ballot language within days.

The high court must “render their written opinion no later than April 1” regarding any initiative petition, according to Article IV, section 10 of the Florida Constitution.

One interested observer – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – predicted earlier this year that the high court would approve the ballot language.

“I think the court is going to approve that,” DeSantis said at a campaign event in New Hampshire in January, according to Marijuana Moment, “so it’ll be on the ballot.” (DeSantis has suspended his presidential campaign.)

The governor earlier in March criticized the proposal, saying that the measure had the “broadest language I’ve ever seen.”

“It seems to supersede any other regulatory regime that we have,” DeSantis complained.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has been the top opponent of the measure. Her office told the Florida Supreme Court last year in a legal filing that the measure “misleads voters in several key respects.” The Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Drug Free America Foundation also filed legal briefs attempting to block the proposal from making it on the ballot.

But both critics and opponents of the measure think it’s likely that the court – stacked with DeSantis appointees — will approve the ballot language this time around, based on the tone of the oral arguments when the issue came before the court last November — after having rejected a similar proposal twice in 2021, ruling in both cases that the ballot language was misleading.

“I cannot fathom why the Florida Supreme Court would side with Attorney General Ashley Moody when her team made such a poor showing during their arguments,” says Chris Cano, the executive director of Suncoast NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). “So much so, that even the most conservative of justices chided the state’s counsel for misrepresenting the justices’ own words in previous cases in an attempt to strike down the adult-use initiative.”

“I have a tendency to agree that it probably will be on the ballot because I also listened to the arguments on the ballot,” says Ellen Snelling, a volunteer board member with the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance, speaking on her own behalf. “It’s hard to know all the discussion that went on behind closed doors, but as far as the questions that came forward and all of that, it sounded like it was more solid than the last couple of attempts when it didn’t get on the ballot, but we’ll see.”

If the Supreme Court does approve the language, Floridians will vote on the measure in November. If approved with 60% of the vote, the measure would go into effect in May 2025.

The campaign to get the measure on the ballot and over the finish line has been led by the Smart & Safe Florida political committee. Steve Vancore, a spokesman for the organization, told the Phoenix earlier this week that it would not weigh in until the court makes its decision.

Smart & Safe has spent more than $40 million on the initiative so far, with nearly all that funding coming from Trulieve, according to the Florida Division of Elections. Trulieve is one of the nation’s largest multi-state cannabis operators.

Snelling says she expects an organized effort to oppose the measure but acknowledges that it will be difficult to match Trulieve’s financial resources. But she says that there is more information to combat the measure than ever before.

“People are starting to see it differently,” she says. “There’s been so much research coming out, especially about children getting poisoned, specifically about edibles, and also the DUI crashes… and there’s much more research coming out showing that this high THC product that’s sold nowadays is nothing like the 60s and 70s. It’s not the drug of yesteryear.”

If the measure makes it on the ballot, it’s unclear if it can clear the 60% required to pass. That’s the highest threshold required for any ballot measure to pass in the country.

“I dread waking up after the election as we did in 2014 and found out that you’re a loser,” says Jodi James, the president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network. That’s a reference to how the first time that medical marijuana was on the ballot in Florida, it received 57% of the vote, a clear majority, but shy of the required 60% required for passage (the measure was approved in 2016 with 71% support).

In Ohio last summer, voters faced a proposal that would have raised the threshold to pass constitutional amendments from 50% plus one to 60%. That failed, which paved the way for Ohio residents to legalize recreational cannabis for adults last November when the measure passed with 57% of the vote.

Currently, there are 24 states have legalized recreational weed. They are: Alaska, California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Recent polls in Florida are all over the place in terms of the ballot initiative’s support: It will need to pass by 60%.

A University of North Florida survey conducted on November 30 of last year showed that 67% support the proposal. But that figure is lower than their previous polling by UNF.

The UNF poll said: Respondents were also asked if they would vote yes or no on another proposed state constitutional amendment to that would allow adults in Florida to purchase and possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they would vote yes, with 28% indicating a vote of no. In the spring of 2023, 70% of respondents said they would support recreational marijuana in Florida, either strongly or somewhat, and 76% said they supported it in the spring of 2022.

“Unlike previous surveys when we simply asked if folks support or oppose legalization of recreational marijuana, this time we gave respondents the specifics of this proposed amendment,” said (Michael) Binder, the PORL faculty director and professor of political science.

“Yet again, it looks like it has a good chance of passing, if the measure makes it through the courts, and that is a very big ‘if’,” he said in a statement at that time.

However, a Florida Chamber of Commerce poll released in January found that 57% of Florida voters support legalizing recreational cannabis — short of the 60% required which would result in the measure failing.

While 24 states have legalized recreational cannabis, four red states – which Florida qualifies based on voter registration between Republicans and Democrats in Florida – have rejected legalizing adult use of cannabis over the past year-and-a-half.

In November of 2022, Arkansas voters said no to the proposal, as did voters in North Dakota and South Dakota and Oklahoma rejected their proposal in 2023. However Missouri and Ohio — two other red states— did approve legal weed over the past two years. Several other states have legalized adult use of cannabis in recent years through their respective legislatures, not going to the voting public.

One argument that the proponents will surely employ is how much additional funding that passage of the amendment would bring to Florida. The Florida Financial Impact Estimating Conference said last July that based on other states’ experience, “expected retail sales of non-medical marijuana would generate at least $195.6 million annually in state and local tax revenues once the retail market is fully operational.”

The analysis also shows that: “Because the $195.6 million sales tax estimate represents the lowest suggested level deemed reliable among the six scenarios reviewed (which ranged upward to $431.3 million), it is probable that future changes, if any, to the tax structure would equal or increase the estimated level of new revenue collections. Such changes would require legislative action.”

Advocates like James also make a more direct appeal for why approval of the potential amendment would be beneficial to the state.

“If there are fewer adults arrested for possession of cannabis that would be a good thing,” she says. “If there are more people who have safe, legal access to a product that is tested and pure and quality assured, we think that’s a good thing.”

But first the public has to have the opportunity to vote up or down on the issue — which we should know in a matter of days.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Marijuana, Recreational Marijuana, Article IV, section 10, Marijuana Moment, Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Votes 2024, Will Florida Legalize Marijuana?


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