Florida Supreme Court to Weigh Fate of Cannabis Legalization Initiative

Until the justices rule, Florida's complicated relationship with cannabis remains in legal limbo.

Florida’s Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Wednesday in a pivotal legal skirmish with the potential to place cannabis legalization on the 2024 ballot and reshape the state’s lucrative market.

The hearing represents a collision of legal interpretations, voter initiative rights, and the influence of big money on grassroots movements.

At the core of the dispute lies a citizen-led ballot initiative proposal spearheaded by Smart & Safe Florida, which has garnered nearly one million signatures in support of adult-use cannabis. The initiative seeks to leverage the existing medical cannabis infrastructure to serve a broader adult consumer base, a move that could ignite substantial economic growth – and even further consolidation – through taxable cannabis purchases.

Yet, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office is challenging the initiative, contending that its language obfuscates a key point: Cannabis, while potentially legalized at the state level, would remain illegal under federal law.

The logic follows a precedent where a similar 2022 legalization measure was struck down by the Supreme Court on the grounds of misleading verbiage.

“I have consistently said that I believe this most recent attempt to legalize marijuana in the state of Florida is the best attempt yet because the language is clean and very simple,” Sally Peebles, a Florida-based attorney with Vicente Sederberg, told Green Market Report in June.

According to Peebles, the current proposal avoids violation of the single subject rule or clarity requirements, which were stumbling blocks for previous efforts.

Still, she said that she is “not naïve” and acknowledged the conservative disposition of the Florida state government and its Supreme Court, conceding that “if there’s any argument to be had, that this does violate the single subject rule, then I think they will certainly agree with Moody on that.”

Big Money

The current attempt hasn’t exactly been an organic grassroots effort, though. Trulieve Cannabis Corp. (OTCQX: TCNNF), a heavyweight in Florida’s medical cannabis market, has been the campaign’s principal funder, pouring tens of millions of dollars into the effort.

The attorney general criticized the company’s involvement as an attempt to cement a “monopolistic stranglehold” on the industry.

Trulieve, alongside initiative proponents, maintains the investment is a testament to their commitment to consumer access and market readiness.

Economic analysts from the state legislature and the governor’s office predict the initiative could generate between $195.6 million and $431.3 million annually in new sales tax revenue. That doesn’t include potential excise taxes that could further boost state coffers.

Such projections could sway fiscal conservatives to look favorably upon legalization.

Despite the economic incentives, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wants to become the Republican candidate for president in the 2024 election, has expressed opposition to federal decriminalization, setting a tone of resistance against the pro-cannabis campaign’s objectives.

Not the Only Challenge

Amid the legal and political drama, a separate yet related conflict is developing. Sanctuary Cannabis last week lobbed a lawsuit contesting the state’s drastic increase in medical marijuana licensing fees, emblematic of the broader debate on regulation and profitability within Florida’s cannabis industry.

DeSantis said in 2022 that Florida “should charge these people more,” referring to existing medical operators, adding that he would “charge them an arm and a leg.”

As Wednesday’s court date approaches, all eyes are on the seven justices whose decision will have ramifications extending beyond the courtroom. A verdict on the proposal’s clarity and legal standing will determine if Floridians will have the opportunity to vote on an issue that affects not only the state’s legal landscape but, due to the sheer market potential, its social fabric and economic future.

Should the measure survive the challenge and ultimately win over 60% of voter approval, Florida could join a growing number of states embracing a more liberal approach to cannabis – a scenario eagerly anticipated by existing medical marijuana companies and local advocates alike.

Adam Jackson

Adam Jackson writes about the cannabis industry for the Green Market Report. He previously covered the Missouri Statehouse for the Columbia Missourian and has written for the Missouri Independent. He most recently covered retail, restaurants and other consumer companies for Bloomberg Business News. You can find him on Twitter at @adam_sjackson and email him at adam.jackson@crain.com.

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