Florida adult-use marijuana legalization will appear on ballot, court rules

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Aerial image of Florida Supreme Court building

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(This story was updated at 6:52 p.m. ET.)

Florida is poised to become the next state to legalize adult-use marijuana.

The state’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that an industry-funded ballot initiative will appear on state voters’ November ballots.

Lawyers for state Attorney General Ashley Moody had argued the Smart & Safe Florida initiative, known as Amendment 3, was misleading to voters.

They also argued that it would unfairly entrench the market dominance of Tallahassee-based marijuana multistate operator Trulieve Cannabis, which has to date contributed more than $40 million toward the effort.

But in a 5-2 decision Monday, the state Supreme Court ruled that the measure indeed “conforms” to state constitutional requirements.

“In light of those limited considerations, we approve the proposed amendment for placement on the ballot,” the justices wrote.

If passed by 60% of voters in November, Amendment 3 would allow recreational cannabis sales to Floridians 21 and older at existing medical marijuana treatment centers.

Those age 21 and up also may possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis for personal use.

No home growing would be allowed.

The Florida Legislature would have the authority to later pass laws allowing other businesses to enter the adult-use market.

In a statement to reporters Monday, Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said the court’s ruling was “correct.”

“We look forward to supporting this campaign as it heads to the ballot this Fall,” Rivers’ statement added.

America’s next top prize?

With a population of more than 22 million people – including a disproportionate number of wealthy seniors and a healthy tourism industry – Florida is considered to be a top prize among regulated U.S. marijuana operators.

Up to $2 billion in medical cannabis sales is projected for this year alone, according to the recently formed Florida Medical Marijuana Trade Association (FMMTA).

With 134 locations in the state, Trulieve enjoys a leading position in Florida’s medical marijuana industry.

But other MSOs that operate in the state would likely see a benefit.

“We applaud the Florida Supreme Court’s decision confirming the Adult Personal Use of Marijuana initiative will be on the ballot this November, cementing Floridians’ democratic right to vote in favor of ending cannabis prohibition in the Sunshine State,” said George Archos, the founder and CEO of multistate marijuana operator Verano Holdings.

Chicago-based Verano operates 63 MMJ dispensaries in Florida under its Müv brand.

“As the nation’s largest medical cannabis market with a high population and significant political influence, Florida has the chance to make history by joining the growing majority of Americans who say, ‘Yes,’ to legal regulated cannabis,” Archos added.

Cannabis legalization in Florida – a key cultural battleground that’s crucial in national elections – could lead to other more far-reaching political consequences.

Most polling shows former President Donald Trump well ahead of President Joe Biden in Florida for the November election.

But with Biden embracing marijuana reform – and with cannabis ballot measures boosting Democratic results in recent elections – the legalization initiative could prove to be a disruptor.

Independent of presidential politics, legal marijuana in Florida would pile more pressure on Congress to reform federal law.

“This is one of the most important cannabis legalization campaigns in recent years,” Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement.

“We have the opportunity to end the injustice of cannabis prohibition for over 22 million Americans.”

Expected outcome

While welcome news to a national marijuana industry eager for positive developments amid stalled federal reform and a bear market plaguing legacy states, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision was at least partially anticipated.

In January, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he believed Amendment 3 would make the ballot.

Monday’s ruling resolves a saga that began in 2022, when Smart & Safe Florida started gathering the first of more than 1 million signatures from registered voters in the state.

The campaign needed 891,589 valid signatures to qualify Amendment 3.

The push crossed the 1 million mark in July 2023, by which time state Attorney General Moody had already filed a legal brief urging the Florida high court to reject the measure.

In later court filings, attorneys for Moody argued that the proposed constitutional amendment’s “carefully curated ballot summary misleads in ways that, though sometimes subtle, are likely to influence voters – and to do so in a way that entrenches the sponsor’s monopolistic stranglehold on the marijuana market to the detriment of Floridians.”

That argument was a direct reference to Trulieve, but neither the ballot language nor the monopoly arguments seemed to sway justices during a November hearing, in which Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady said he was “baffled” by the state’s arguments.

Florida’s medical marijuana law, which 71% of voters approved in 2016, survived a similar constitutional challenge at the state Supreme Court before it reached the ballot.

The justices referenced that debate in their Monday decision, dismissing the state’s argument that packaging the decriminalization of marijuana with allowing its sale on the same ballot question violates the state’s single-subject requirement.

“Selling and possessing marijuana appear, for better or worse, directly connected, and we cannot say that an amendment addressing both components violates the single-subject requirement,” the justices wrote.

Observers said Trulieve is likely to spend another $20 million-$25 million on the campaign before Election Day.

Earlier this year, other MSOs that would stand to benefit from adult-use legalization formed the FMMTA.

The trade association’s membership doesn’t include Trulieve.

So far, these competitors have declined to support the adult-use legalization effort led by Trulieve.

Chris Roberts can be reached at chris.roberts@mjbizdaily.com.