Cannabis Legalization on the Ballot in Florida, But Hawaii Bill Dies

    Florida voters will decide on a marijuana legalization measure in November, despite opposition from top elected Republicans there. Thousands of miles away meanwhile, Hawaii’s latest effort to legalize through its legislature has failed, despite support from top elected Democrats and most voters.

    The Florida measure, Amendment 3, was confirmed by an April 1 court decision.

    “The majority of Floridians, like most voters nationwide, support repealing marijuana prohibition,” Paul Armentano, deputy director at NORML, told Filter. “Yet their voice has consistently ignored by lawmakers in Tallahassee, who have refused to even debate this issue. This is a long overdue opportunity for Florida voters to finally have a say, and have a say where it matters most—at the ballot box.”

    For years, Florida has been a promising but frustrating battleground for cannabis reformers, even as the state’s politics have trended more conservative. The state requires ballot initiatives, in the form of consitutional amendments, to win at least 60 percent support in order to become law.

    This has held things up in the past. In 2014, a measure to legalize medical marijuana failed to pass despite receiving almost 58 percent of the vote. Medical legalization was finally adopted after an overwhelming 71 percent of voters approved it in 2016.

    Donald Trump won the state in the presidential election that year. But Florida’s rightward shift hasn’t killed off the prospect of adult-use legalization, which some polling indicates is supported by about half of Republican voters, as well as majorities of Democrats and independents. Total support hovers around or just below the crucial 60 percent threshold.

    Amendment 3 will appear on the November 5 ballot, but measure itself is controversial among legalization advocates.

    In the 2022 election cycle, advocates launched two different legalization measures, but ran up against state Attorney General Ashley Moody (R), who successfully sued to have them thrown out in court.

    In 2023, the group Smart and Safe Florida filed a new legalization measure, which Moody again sued to stop. Her argument this time was that the measure was misleading because it would confuse voters into thinking Florida law could supersede federal law. But on April 1, the courts ruled against Moody’s challenge, meaning Amendment 3 will appear on the November 5 ballot.

    The measure itself is highly controversial among legalization advocates. It would allow existing medical dispensaries to apply for licenses to serve the adult-use market, and allow—but not require—the state to issue licenses to other businesses. Existing medical dispensaries include those operated by the company Trulieve, which has funded the measure, and which Moody herself attacked for trying to get a “monopolistic stranglehold” in Florida.

    Further objections to the measure include that it offers no legalization of home grow, no expungement of marijuana criminal records, and no “social equity” measures to address harms of prohibition in impacted communities. It would legalize possession of up to 3 ounces of cannabis, or 5 grams of concentrate, for adults over 21.


    Frustration in Hawaii

    A very different process has played out in Hawaii meanwhile. It ended in disappointment for legalization advocates, after elected Democrats couldn’t agree on advancing a bill.

    Governor Josh Green (D), elected in 2022, supports legalization—unlike his predecessor David Ige (D), who opposed legalization and refused to endorse a decriminalization bill, though allowed it to become law without his signature. Green appointed Anne Lopez as state attorney general, and despite not personally supporting legalization, Lopez nonetheless helped bring it closer by writing a “roadmap” for how it could be done in Hawaii.

    Representative David Tarnas (D) worked with the AG’s office to introduce a bill in the House in January, with a companion bill also introduced in the Senate. The legislation sought to legalize possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis, or 5 grams of concentrate, for adults over 21; to legalize home cultivation of up to six plants; to create a new hemp and cannabis authority and cannabis control board to regulate the industry; and to allocate cannabis tax dollars toward both law enforcement and a fund for “social equity, public health and education, and public safety.”

    On March 5, the bill passed the Hawaii Senate by a vote of 19-6, and was working through House committees. Tarnas explained that it passed through the judiciary, agriculture and consumer protection committees, which made amendments that the full House approved.

    But on April 2, the bill finally reached a dead end in the finance committee. Here, a group of House Democrats who consistently opposed the bill throughout the session were able to join together and kill it.

    House Finance Committee Chair Kyle Yamashita (D) “gave two different reasons for why he’s not hearing it,” Rep. Tarnas told Filter. “One, there weren’t the votes to move it out; second, this is a very tough budget year because we had a significant fire in Maui, it burned down the whole town of Lahaina. We have significant costs the state needs to bear to rebuild it.”

    Carnas said that while he respects this decision from his House colleagues, he believes much of the opposition to legalization is based on false premises. A number of elected officials, he suggested, think legalization would lead to increased youth cannabis use and more fatal car crashes—beliefs that are refuted by the evidence.

    “I have committed and got agreement from the House speaker that during the interim, I will continue working on this bill to improve it.”

    In March, Democratic Majority Whip Rep. Scot Matayoshi said legalization would inflict “incredible harm to our society.”

    Rep. Tarnas is determined to try again in the next legislative session. “This is the furthest a cannabis legalization bill has made it in the Hawaii state legislature, so I think that’s good,” he reflected. “It’s the best and most comprehensive bill. I think people are glad we’re taking it seriously and trying to move it forward. I have committed and got agreement from the House speaker that during the interim, I will continue working on this bill to improve it. I’ll work with the AG office to try to address the issues brought up during House debate.”   

    At least two other states have a chance of legalizing cannabis for adult use in 2024.

    In New Hampshire, the only state in New England that hasn’t legalized, the House passed a legalization bill that still needs to advance in the Senate. It may receive the blessing of Governor Chris Sununu (R), who recently reversed his opposition to legalization.

    In South Dakota, activists are also hoping to achieve legalization—which voters already approved in 2020, but which courts later struck down. The current campaign has until May 7 to gather 12,500 voter signatures in order to appear on the November ballot.



    Photograph via United States Drug Enforcement Administration

    • Alexander is Filter’s staff writer. He writes about the movement to end the War on Drugs. He grew up in New Jersey and swears it’s actually alright. He’s also a musician hoping to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Alexander was previously Filter‘s editorial fellow.

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