TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Splitting from the Senate, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office says the Florida Supreme Court should decide whether a recreational-marijuana constitutional amendment can go before voters.
Moody opposes the proposed amendment, which would allow recreational use of marijuana, but lawyers in her office said in a 21-page brief Friday that the Supreme Court should consider whether the measure meets legal standards to potentially go on the November 2022 ballot.
The Senate in January filed a motion contending that the Supreme Court should dismiss the issue because the political committee backing the proposed amendment did not submit enough petition signatures to get on the 2020 ballot. Senate attorneys described the issue as “moot.”
The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments in the case May 6 and directed attorneys to be prepared to discuss the Senate’s request to dismiss the issue.
Backers of ballot initiatives need to meet an overall signature requirement to put issues before voters. They also must meet a lower threshold to trigger Supreme Court review of proposed ballot wording, a critical step in the process.
The committee Make It Legal Florida, which is behind the recreational-marijuana amendment, met a requirement of submitting 76,632 valid signatures to trigger the Supreme Court review. But it did not meet a Feb. 1 deadline for submitting an overall 766,200 signatures to get on the 2020 ballot. Instead, it announced it planned to focus on getting on the 2022 ballot.
Part of the dispute centers on the fact that the number of petitions needed to get on the 2022 ballot will increase from the current 766,200 signatures. The numbers are revised after each presidential election and are based on a formula involving the total votes cast in the presidential election.
The Senate pointed, in part, to the upcoming changes in required signatures to argue that the Supreme Court should not consider the marijuana amendment.
“The criteria for placement on the 2022 ballot is not yet known because there will be an intervening presidential election in 2020,” the Senate motion said. “Therefore, this matter is not yet ripe for review (by the Supreme Court) until the signature criteria can be determined and it is verified that the sponsor has met the threshold for 2022 ballot review.”
In the brief Friday, Moody’s office disputed that the upcoming signature-requirement changes should prevent the Supreme Court from considering whether the marijuana amendment’s wording meets legal standards, such as not being misleading to voters.
“Nothing in the text of the Florida Constitution or any statute divests this (Supreme) Court of jurisdiction due simply to the prospect, or the occurrence, of an intervening presidential election,” the brief said.
Moody’s office, however, said the Supreme Court would not have to decide if the proposed ballot wording meets legal standards until April 1, 2022.
Adding another wrinkle to the issue, Make It Legal Florida contended in a January brief that it will qualify for the 2022 ballot if it can submit 766,200 petition signatures before this year’s presidential election. As a result, it disputed that the Supreme Court review is moot. Make It Legal Florida had submitted 550,624 valid signatures as of mid-day Monday, according to the state Division of Elections.
“If Make It Legal, Florida garners the requisite number of signatures at any point before the November 3, 2020 presidential election, then the petition initiative at issue in this case will have qualified for placement on the 2022 ballot under the requirements of … the Florida Constitution,” the committee’s brief said. “Moreover, Make It Legal, Florida has already qualified for this (Supreme) Court’s review of its initiative petition under the current statutory framework.”
The Senate’s motion to dismiss the case also could affect other proposed constitutional amendments that received enough signatures to trigger Supreme Court review but not enough to reach the 2020 ballot. Those amendments propose an expansion of Medicaid eligibility, a prohibition on “assault” weapons and another proposal to allow recreational marijuana.
(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report.)