No fooling: April 1 is deadline for Florida Supreme Court decisions on marijuana, abortion amendments

The Florida Supreme Court must make a consequential decision between now and Monday, April 1, on whether to allow two significant ballot initiatives on the November 2024 ballot.

If approved by voters, one of the proposed constitutional amendments would allow the sale and possession of recreational marijuana, a move that would rapidly be embraced by the state’s already established medical marijuana industry. One of Florida’s dominant medical marijuana companies, Trulieve, donated more than $40 million to finance the effort to get the measure on the ballot.

The court’s review is centered around whether the amendment sticks to a single subject and if the ballot summary and title are misleading.

Attorney General Ashley Moody asked the court to block the marijuana amendment from the ballot, but the scope of questions during the Supreme Court hearing suggested that several Justices were skeptical of her reasoning.

The group behind the amendment — Smart & Safe Florida — has maintained it followed a roadmap laid out by the court when the Supreme Court permitted a medical marijuana amendment to make the ballot.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has already sounded off about what he calls the broad impact of the initiative, although he also has suggested that he expects the Supreme Court to allow the measure to go before voters. Sixty percent of those voting on the amendment must say “yes” for the initiative to pass.

The expected court action comes right after the Legislature passed a highly contentious bill to place restrictions on the hemp industry that some view as a way to sideline a potential competitor to the soon-to-be burgeoning recreational marijuana market. That bill passed the House by a relatively narrow 64-48 vote, although it was unanimously passed by the Senate. There have already been calls for DeSantis to veto the bill.

The other proposed amendment the court must review is an abortion rights measure that would block the state from prohibiting abortion up to the point of viability, which is usually around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Moody has also asked the court to block this measure as well. Once again, there appeared to be pushback from some of the Justices when they held oral arguments in early February.

The court’s looming decision on the abortion rights initiative comes as the Supreme Court has yet to render a much-anticipated ruling on the fate of Florida’s existing ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The Legislature first approved the ban in 2022 before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had been the guiding precedent on when states could regulate abortion.

The legal challenge against the law, however, centers on whether the ban violates the state constitution and a privacy clause that was first approved by voters in 1980. That clause has been cited by the state Supreme Court when it struck down previous abortion laws passed by the Legislature. A decision to uphold the 15-week ban would presumably require the Florida Supreme Court to also overturn its previous rulings.

If the state Supreme Court does uphold the 15-week ban, then a ban on abortions after six weeks would take effect 30 days later. Legislators approved the stricter ban in 2023 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

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