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Court Deals Blow to Florida Marijuana Initiative

The state Supreme Court ruled that the initiative's ballot summary is "misleading."

Florida Supreme Court, Tallahassee.
Florida Supreme Court, Tallahassee.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday dealt a potentially fatal blow to supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at legalizing recreational marijuana under certain circumstances.

The justices ruled that the initiative's ballot summary is “misleading” in part because it does not spell out that recreational marijuana possession and distribution remains a federal crime.

“The point is that a summary should not contain language that is affirmatively misleading and creates a risk that voters will be confused,” the majority justices wrote in a 5-2 ruling.

The ruling came after Attorney General Ashley Moody requested an advisory opinion on whether the marijuana initiative was valid.

A group called Make It Legal Florida had been gathering petition signatures in hopes of placing the initiative on the 2022 ballot. Now, they will have to start all over again.

The group would need more than 891,000 signatures to get the marijuana measure on the 2022 ballot

The proposal would permit Floridians 21 and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces (70 grams) of marijuana for personal use, with some restrictions over where it could be used. The court majority objected to the summary because they said it implies Floridians would be completely free of criminal exposure despite federal law.

The court reasoned that the ballot summary “affirmatively misleads voters into believing that the recreational use of marijuana in Florida will be free of any repercussions, criminal or otherwise.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, strong proponent of marijuana reform laws, issued a statement saying the court's ruling effectly nullifies the will of the people.

"Florida voters have taken this into their own hands because the Florida Legislature failed to do right by the people in taking legislative action on legalization," "said Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat. “My advice is that they listen to the will of the people or they’ll be out of a job soon.

Justices Jorge LaBarga and Allen Lawson dissented, with Lawson filing an opinion saying the ballot summary accurately describes what the proposed amendment would do. Lawson said he would have approved it.

Florida voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment permitting medical use of marijuana.

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