Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down 2022 Ballot Initiative to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

An effort to get marijuana legalization on the ballot in Florida's 2022 election cycle was squashed by the state's Supreme Court on Thursday.

In a 5-to-2 ruling, the justices declared that the constitutional ballot initiative was "misleading" because the drug would still be illegal at the federal level.

"A constitutional amendment cannot unequivocally 'permit' or authorize conduct that is criminalized under federal law. And a ballot summary suggesting otherwise is affirmatively misleading," the court wrote.

Justices Allen Lawson and Jorge Labarga dissented.

"Today's decision underestimates Florida voters," Lawson wrote in his opinion, "and adds hurdles to the citizen-initiative process that are not supported by the plain language of the governing law or our precedent."

Lawson also argued that "there is the practical matter of not knowing how federal law will change in the years between the drafting of any ballot summary and a vote on the amendment." The House of Representatives passed a bill in December to legalize marijuana at the federal level.

The Florida Supreme Court took up the case after the state's attorney general, Ashley Moody, a Republican, requested an advisory opinion on whether the marijuana initiative was valid.

"We thank the Florida Supreme Court for their time and attention to this issue and respect their ruling. Floridians must fully understand what they are voting on when they go to the ballot box," Lauren Schenone Cassedy, the director of public affairs at the attorney general's office, told Newsweek in response to Thursday's decision.

The "Make it Legal Florida" ballot initiative would have left it up to voters to decide whether to allow residents age 21 and older to possess and use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana.

According to the Miami Herald, the initiative's sponsor collected more than 556,000 signatures out of the 891,589 needed to make it onto next year's ballot. The sponsor also reportedly raised more than $8 million for the campaign to legalize cannabis.

Now if the organizers want to get a marijuana legalization amendment on the ballot, they would need to start from scratch. Newsweek reached out to Make it Legal Florida, but did not receive a response before publication.

Ballot initiatives have successfully been used to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana. Voters in four states—Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota—passed ballot measures in the 2020 election cycle to legalize weed for adults. Mississippi voters also approved a measure to legalize the drug for medical use.

Florida Supreme Court marijuana legalization
Karen Goldstein attends a rally for Florida Attorney General candidate, Jim Lewis, who is running on a platform of legalizing marijuana on October 12, 2010 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court tossed out a ballot initiative for marijuana legalization. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In 2016, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment permitting the use of medical marijuana. More than 70 percent of voters in that election backed the proposal.

Over a dozen states and Washington D.C. have legalized at least the recreational use of marijuana. New York, New Mexico and Virginia are some of the latest states to do so, with their Democratic governors signing legislation passed by state lawmakers.

Virginia, where Governor Ralph Northam signed the bill on Wednesday, is the first Southern state to legalize the drug.