On Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments about a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow people to use recreational marijuana.
Proponents of the amendment, including Make It Legal Florida, are seeking to have the amendment placed on the 2022 ballot. To do so, they need the Florida Supreme Court to give the green light to the title and summary of the proposed amendment. In other words, they need the high court to approve the language/wording that is utilized in the title and/or summary of the proposed amendment. It is with this language where the debate arises.
According to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, the proposed amendment would mislead voters. More particularly, opponents to the amendment contend that some of the language of the amendment is misleading because it appears to permit conduct that is illegal under federal law. As reported in the Miami Herald:
State Solicitor General Amit Agarwal, representing Moody, argued Wednesday that the Supreme Court should reject the proposal because it would be misleading to voters. Agarwal focused, in part, on wording in the ballot summary that says the amendment “permits adults 21 years or older to possess, use, purchase, display, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and marijuana accessories for personal use for any reason.”
“Voters should be told the truth,” Agarwal said. “They should be given the tools that they need to make a fully informed decision on this ballot initiative. Voters right now are told, expressly and unqualifiedly, that the proposed amendment would permit something that it quite simply would not permit.”
On the other hand, proponents of the amendment assert that the amendment simply “piggybacks” on a constitutional amendment that passed in 2016 and that legalized the use of medical marijuana. This amendment, they claim, would simply reduce some of the restrictions limiting use for medical reasons. As reported by the Miami Herald, citing George Levesque, an attorney for Make It Legal Florida:
“We believe the text of our proposed amendment, and the summary that describes it, accurately, clearly and unambiguously informs the voter of what we are trying to do,” he told The News Service of Florida after the arguments. “In this case, to permit limited amounts of marijuana to be given to adults and for adults to be able to use that marijuana for any purpose that they need it for.”
The Florida Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether the language of the proposed amendment is misleading, or whether it is clear enough to defeat such a challenge. In doing so, the court will likely consider the interplay between the Florida Constitution and the United States Constitution and/or federal law. More particularly, opponents to the amendment claim that the language is misleading because it permits voters to engage in conduct that is criminalized under federal law. Proponents, on the other hand, assert that Floridians have the right to amend the Florida Constitution and that there is no obligation to inform Florida voters about what it is happening with regard to federal law.
Jason Gonzalez, an attorney representing the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Floridians Against Recreational Marijuana, Save Our Society from Drugs and National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance, raised an interesting point. As reported by Law.com:
Gonzalez argued that if he repeated the first few lines of the ballot summary to a client he’d be making a serious false statement, as the sale of any marijuana is [a] federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“If I said that with no condition, I would be committing professional malpractice. I would be violating the oath of attorney and the rules of professional conduct because it’s patently false, and it would not just merely be a mild misstatement,” Gonzalez said.
Time will tell how the court ultimately rules on this interesting and important case.
This article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to solicit business or to provide legal advice. You should not take, or refrain from taking, any legal action based upon the information contained in this article without first seeking professional counsel.
Mr. Hakim is a writer and commentator and an attorney. His articles have been published in The Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller, The Federalist, The Algemeiner, The Western Journal, American Thinker and other online publications.