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Recreational pot supporters in Florida fire back on new law

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TALLAHASSEE — With a hearing next week in the Florida Supreme Court, backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow people to use recreational marijuana are disputing arguments by the state Senate that a new law should help block the ballot initiative.

Attorneys for the political committee Make It Legal Florida filed a 28-page brief Monday at the Supreme Court that said the Legislature could not erect new legal barriers to the proposed amendment, saying “this train left the station long before” the controversial law passed in March.

The law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, takes a series of steps to try to make it harder to pass ballot initiatives, including calling on the Florida Supreme Court to consider whether proposed amendments are “facially invalid under the United States Constitution.” The Senate this month filed a brief saying the new law bolsters arguments the Supreme Court should block the ballot proposal because it conflicts with federal laws that make marijuana illegal.

The Supreme Court plays a gatekeeper role on ballot initiatives to make sure they meet legal standards before going to voters. Justices will hold a hearing on the recreational marijuana proposal May 6.

In the filing Monday, Make It Legal Florida attorneys George Levesque and Ashley Hoffman Lukis wrote that the law cannot be applied retroactively to the recreational-marijuana proposal, which qualified for a Supreme Court review in December based on petition signatures.

But even if the law could be applied retroactively, the attorneys wrote, the recreational-marijuana proposal, which could go on the 2022 ballot, does not conflict with the U.S. Constitution or federal laws.

“If passed, the amendment would decriminalize the sale and possession of marijuana under Florida law within the limited contours of the amendment,” the brief said. “This change in state law would reflect a rational and permissible policy choice by Florida voters to cease using the state’s limited resources to prosecute conduct that is currently unlawful. The amendment does not mandate any Floridian to violate federal law. Nor does it have any effect on federal law enforcement, or purport to immunize Floridians from violations of federal law — nor could it. Simply put, divergent policy choices by the state and federal government with regard to the criminalization of certain conduct does not establish a facial violation of the United States Constitution.”

Opponents of the initiative, including the Senate, House, Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, have attacked the proposed amendment in recent months because of the potential conflict with federal drug laws, contending that the measure doesn’t adequately inform voters of the conflict and would be misleading.

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But the Senate has gone further, tying that argument to the new law’s requirement that the Supreme Court look at whether ballot initiatives are invalid under the U.S. Constitution. The Senate argues the marijuana measure would violate the U.S. Constitution’s “Supremacy Clause,” which generally involves federal laws trumping state laws.

“The passage of (the new law) clarifies the scope of the court’s review and opens the door for the court to consider the inability to comport with federal law,” Senate attorneys wrote in an April 20 brief. “Because the initiative is facially invalid under the U.S. Constitution, the court should remove it from the ballot.”

While opposed to the amendment, Moody has diverged from the Senate on using the new law to try to block it. In a filing last week, Moody’s office said justices should not consider whether the initiative runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

“Because the misleading ballot language provides an adequate and independent ground for resolving this case, the (Supreme) Court need not — and, based on traditional principles of judicial restraint, should not — address the facial validity of the proposed amendment under the United States Constitution,” Moody’s brief said.

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment are disputing arguments by the state Senate that a new law should help block the ballot initiative.

New Jersey, Arizona approve recreational marijuana, Florida raises minimum wage

(Reuters) – Voters in New Jersey and Arizona legalized marijuana for recreational use on Tuesday, and in Oregon approved the country’s first therapeutic use for psilocybin, the hallucinogenic drug known as magic mushrooms.

The measures were among at least 124 statutory and constitutional questions put to voters this year in 32 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Here are some of the key results and projections from the ballots, which covered topics such as elections, abortion rights and taxes:

MARIJUANA

While voters in New Jersey and Arizona approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use, South Dakota was poised to allow the drug for both medical and recreational use: Its ballot measure that appeared headed to victory with 90 percent of precincts counted. A proposition legalizing medical marijuana also appeared headed for victory in Mississippi.

Since 1996, 33 other states and the District of Columbia have allowed medical marijuana, 11 had previously approved its recreational use and 16, including some medical marijuana states, have decriminalized simple possession, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

PSILOCYBIN, AKA MAGIC MUSHROOMSPsilocybin, a hallucinogen also known in its raw form as magic mushrooms, was approved by Oregon voters for therapeutic use for adults. Backers of the Psilocybin Services Act cited research showing benefits of the drug as a treatment for anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions. The measure will set a schedule to further consider the matter and create a regulatory structure for it.

In a related measure, Washington, D.C., voters approved Initiative 81, which directs police to rank “entheogenic plants and fungi,” including psilocybin and mescaline, among its lowest enforcement priorities.

MINIMUM WAGE Voters in Florida approved a measure to amend the state constitution to gradually increase its $8.56 per hour minimum wage to $15 by Sept. 30, 2026.

CALIFORNIA GIG WORKERS California voters approved a measure that would exempt ride-share and delivery drivers from a state law that makes them employees, not contractors, according to Edison Research. The measure, Proposition 22, is the first gig-economy question to go before statewide voters in a campaign. Backers, including Uber Technologies Inc UBER.N and Lyft Inc LYFT.O , spent more than $190 million on their campaign, making the year’s costliest ballot measure, according to Ballotpedia.

ABORTION

Colorado voters rejected a measure to ban abortions, except those needed to save the life of the mother, after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

ELECTIONS

California approved a measure to restore the right to vote to parolees convicted of felonies.

TAXES

In California, a proposal to roll back a portion of the state’s landmark Proposition 13 law limiting property taxes was too close to call Tuesday night. The measure, Proposition 15 on the state’s 2020 ballot, would leave in place protections for residential properties, but raise taxes on commercial properties worth more than $3 million. With about 80% of precincts partially reporting at 12:30 a.m. Pacific Time, the measure was slightly behind, with 51.5% of voters opposed to it and 48.5% in favor.

Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Philippa Fletcher

Voters in New Jersey and Arizona legalized marijuana for recreational use on Tuesday, and in Oregon approved the country's first therapeutic use for psilocybin, the hallucinogenic drug known as magic mushrooms.