Florida House lawmakers advanced a resolution Jan. 29 that intends to make it more difficult for voters to pass citizen-initiated constitutional amendments on the ballot by requiring a 66.67% supermajority.
While 26 states in the nation allow for different types of citizen-initiated measures, Florida is one of three states that only allows for these measures to be constitutional amendments (as opposed to statutory measures or veto referendums).
Under current Florida law, constitutional amendments need a 60% supermajority vote to pass, a threshold that was approved by the state’s voters in 2006. This threshold doomed Florida’s first attempt at legalizing medical cannabis in the 2014 election, despite 57.6% of voters supporting Amendment 2.
Now Florida politicians are attempting to up the ante once again.
The current proposal to increase the threshold to 66.67%—House Joint Resolution 335—was passed by the Florida House Ethics, Elections and Open Government Subcommittee via an 11-6 vote on Monday.
But H.J.R. 335’s path toward becoming effective involves two steps: First, it must go through the legislative process and gain the backing of the full Legislature; then, it would have to go before voters in the November 2024 election and pass via a 60% supermajority.
While the resolution would not impact Florida’s adult-use cannabis legalization amendment that’s currently under judicial review in the state’s Supreme Court, it could potentially impact future adult-use initiatives should the 2024 adult-use proposal sponsored by Smart and Safe Florida face defeat. This adds to the urgency for Florida stakeholders and reform advocates.
Roughly two-thirds (67%) of Florida voters say they would support a constitutional amendment allowing adults to purchase and possess personal amounts of cannabis, according to a November 2023 survey conducted by pollsters at the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab. But Election Day results for adult-use measures often fall short of poll numbers.
Regardless, unknowns remain at both ends of the spectrum.
H.J.R. 335’s sponsor, Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach, has tried for seven years now to increase the amendment threshold to 66.67% but to no avail.
“I think we can all say that our freedom of speech and our sovereign rights to govern are all under assault as we’ve entered a period of time when we’re not sure whether the media and government is telling us the complete truth about things that are going on,” Roth told subcommittee members Monday.
“And when you think about it, in order for you to be able to vote on a constitutional amendment when you go to the ballot box, you need to have all the facts,” he said. “And so, I say the best way we can protect our Florida Constitution is to make sure that everyone understands and supports a new constitutional amendment before they vote yes on it.”
Roth fielded myriad questions from the subcommittee members, including the reasoning behind his two-thirds supermajority proposal for passing constitutional amendments on the ballot, which he said would mirror the two-thirds legislative majority imposed on the Florida Legislature to statutorily raise taxes. This, too, was a Republican-back amendment passed in 2018.
Rep. Rita Harris, D-Orlando, asked why Roth believed Floridians don’t understand their constitutional amendments unless the bar is set at 66.67% to pass them.
Roth pointed to the state’s 2014 medical cannabis legalization measure that failed with 56.7% of voters in support, saying that two years later a different medical cannabis legalization measure passed with 71.3% of voters in support just because it had a different title.
“A different title, and a better campaign,” he said. “So, it’s not an issue of trying to prevent amendments. It’s an issue of making ensure that people understand the full weight of what the amendment will do.”
Contrary to Roth’s claim, the 2016 amendment differed from 2014 in that it:
- Spelled out requirements for parental consent;
- Elaborated on the definition of what constitutes a “debilitating” illness for qualifying patients;
- Stated doctors would not be immune from malpractice claims for negligently prescribing patients to medical cannabis; and
- Addressed what opponents called a “drug dealer loophole” by granting authority to the Florida Department of Health to limit how many patients a caregiver could serve.
Rep. Ashley Viola Gantt, D-Miami-Dade, later asked Roth if he thought the Florida Supreme Court’s review of proposed constitutional amendments—including their ballot language—before they get added to the ballot wasn’t enough of a qualification to ensure citizens have clear and direct language to be educated enough for voting.
Roth simply replied that he thinks the Supreme Court is qualified.
Gantt also asked Roth if he thought H.J.R. 335 should require a two-thirds supermajority to pass should it go before voters in November.
Roth said no: His proposed resolution to raise the threshold to 66.67% would first go through the legislative process and therefore should only require a 60% majority to pass, he said.