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Florida Supreme Court justices appear open to recreational pot legalization initiative

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Justices on Florida’s conservative-leaning Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared to favor a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, pushing back against the state’s arguments that the initiative hides information from potential voters.

During the hourlong arguments, the justices pointedly questioned attorneys representing Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who claims the language of the initiative fails to explain that marijuana is still prohibited under federal law.

Justice Charles G. Canady said the proposal was clear. “Where’s the hidden ball?” Canady said, later adding, “I’m baffled by the argument. Maybe it’s just me.”

The arguments centered on a pot legalization initiative sponsored by the Smart & Safe Florida, which is backed by Trulieve, the state’s largest medical marijuana producer. The initiative seeks to legalize marijuana use for anyone 21-years-old or older while leaving additional issues of licensing up to the GOP-led Legislature.

Smart & Safe has already collected more than 1 million valid signatures, easily surpassing the more than 891,000 required to qualify for the ballot by February and ultimately be on the 2024 ballot. At least 60 percent of voters would need to approve it for it to be enacted.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the marijuana initiative, Florida’s 13 million voters will have chance in 2024 to decide whether to legalize pot in the country’s third-most populous state. Florida would join 24 states that have already legalized marijuana for recreational use, including Ohio, where voters approved a similar ballot initiative Tuesday night.

As a constitutional amendment, the legalization initiative would bypass Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature, which has ignored similar bills filed by lawmakers over the past few years.

In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the Legislature to remove a ban on raw “flower” from the state’s medical marijuana law, which voters approved by a ballot initiative in 2016. But DeSantis, who is now running for president, has said on the campaign trail that recreational pot is a problem and has said “drugs are killing this country.”

Five of the state’s seven Supreme Court justices were appointed by DeSantis, including Chief Justice Carlos G. Muñiz, who also said the ballot language did not misled voters.

Chief Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Paul DeSousa argued during Wednesday’s hearing that the amendment also deceived voters by saying it will create new licenses to sell and produce pot for recreational use — on top of allowing what the state calls medical marijuana treatment centers to start selling products to anyone age 21 and over.

Muñiz disagreed, saying the proposed amendment explains to voters that the creation of additional licenses would be left up to the Legislature.

“It seems like it wasn’t an unreasonable choice to put that in the substantive part,” Muñiz said. “I just can’t see how that wouldn’t be reasonable.”

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has also asked the Supreme Court to reject the legalization initiative, arguing the measure violates a requirement that ballot initiatives must stick to one subject.

The Supreme Court has until April 1 to hand down a decision on the case. If no decision is handed down, the measure would be cleared to be on next year’s ballot.

Smart & Safe spokesperson Steve Vancore said the current effort addressed concerns raised by the court when it rejected two previous legalization ballot initiatives.

“We believe that, after today’s oral arguments, it is clear that the language was drafted to conform to the roadmap that the Court itself has provided in prior cases,” Vancore wrote in a statement. “We hope that the Court agrees that the language strictly adheres to the law and will allow the citizens of Florida to exercise their sovereign right to decide whether to amend their Constitution.”


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