The Florida Supreme Court is considering whether a recreational marijuana ballot proposal can go before voters in 2022 and whether the state’s tight regulation of the medical marijuana industry violates the state constitution.
The court heard arguments Wednesday via teleconference — a first for the justices — with lawyers arguing and judges hearing the case all from separate locations as a precaution amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The proceedings were livestreamed on the court's website and Facebook page and were available on The Florida Channel, a state-funded news organization that covers government.
The recreational marijuana ballot proposal would expand the state's current medical marijuana law, which was approved by voters in 2016. The proposal would remove the medical restriction, allowing marijuana use by adults over the age of 21 for any reason.
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Amit Agarwal, representing Attorney General Ashley Moody, told the justices that they should keep it off the ballot, arguing that it is deceptive because it doesn't explain that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
“It's undisputed that federal law makes it a crime to use, purchase or sell marijuana and the proposed amendment would not either undo or override that federal law,” Agarwal said.
But Justice Carlos Muniz questioned that logic.
“Medical marijuana is equally illegal under federal law, right? In my five minute drive to work I think I passed 10 medical marijuana dispensaries that are there and operating because of the previous constitutional amendment,” Muniz said. “Why wouldn't this have the same kind of effect?”
A group called Make It Legal Florida is collecting petitions to get the proposal on the ballot. It would require 60% voter approval. Lawyer George Levesque said the group's goal is to piggyback on the current medical marijuana laws, following the same regulations but simply removing the requirement that sales are for medical purposes.
In the second case, lawyers for the Florida Department of Health asked the justices to overturn a state appellate court decision in July that struck down a legislatively imposed medical marijuana business model that the court said was in conflict with the constitution.
A lawyer for the governor’s office argued that the voter-approved measure did not preclude the Legislature from defining how to implement the law the way it did.
The question before the court, said the attorney, Joe Jacquot, “is whether the statute conflicts with the amendment.”
FloriGrown is challenging a law that requires dispensaries to grow and process their product rather than allowing separate growers and sellers. It also puts caps on medical marijuana treatment centers.
“All FloriGrown is asking is to have a fair chance to participate in a process,” said the company’s lawyer, Katherine Giddings. “There’s something wrong with a system that keeps competition out, products scarce and prices outrageously high."
Giddings argued that limiting competition "is harming Florida’s critically ill and terminally ill from getting the medical marijuana at reasonable prices and is totally contrary to fair market principles.”
Florida has more than 336,000 people registered with the state to legally use medicinal marijuana, according to the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. They are served by 240 dispensaries.