Abortion rights and recreational marijuana take to the Florida ballot

The Florida Supreme Court approved two controversial ballot measures on Monday, Apr. 1, granting registered voters in the state the opportunity to decide on the legalization of recreational marijuana and protection of abortion rights in November.

The proposed constitutional amendments need at least 60% approval from voters to pass.

While both these measures have received strong opposition from the current Republican state government, protecting abortion rights will have a much more complicated path to ratification considering the current abortion laws in the state.

The proposed abortion amendment states that access would be guaranteed to anyone until the fetus is considered viable. Viability, usually about 24 weeks, was part of the deliberate language used in the bill to leave much more to be debated.

“Using the word ‘viable’ leaves open an additional political process whereby the word would be debated,” political science professor Casey Klofstad said. “The Republican legislative branch may try to push back, so then the ball will be in their court to try and define viability and make it as low as possible.”

A University of North Florida poll in late November reported that 62% of respondents said they would vote “yes” to the proposed amendment. In the most recent data, Florida political reporter Marc Caputo said there is about 70% support for the amendment throughout the state.

Along with the state supreme court’s approval of this abortion ballot measure, the supreme court deemed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ current 15-week abortion ban constitutional.

This ban, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022, was Florida’s first attempt at restricting abortion rights following the overturning of Roe v. Wade that same year.

This ruling also paves the way for the enforcement of DeSantis’ six-week abortion ban signed in April 2023, one of the country’s strictest abortion policies.

This ban, which takes effect on May 1, prohibits Floridians from receiving abortions after the fetus has reached six weeks of gestation, excluding victims of rape, incest, human trafficking, or for the purpose of saving a patient’s life. Patients will need to show proof before they are given these exceptions.

“These rulings are seemingly contradictory, but they’re judging it on different metrics. The supreme court is looking to see if the 15-week ban is constitutional under the Florida Constitution,” Klofstad said. “Whereas, the abortion measure just has to reach a certain qualifications, usually a certain percentage of signatures to be approved ”

The incoming ban has caused anxiety for some students at UM.

“As a young woman currently living in Florida, the news was extremely upsetting and feels as though we’re taking steps back in time,” Allie Diaz, a political science major at UM, said. “Many women aren’t even aware that they are pregnant at that early stage, which makes the situation even more scary as they wouldn’t be able to have the choice to carry out the pregnancy.”

Alternatively, the recreational marijuana measure, which proposes legalizing marijuana use for those over 21, has been met with strong opposition from the Republican state government, with Desantis calling the measure “radical.”

The measure received about 57% support in a January poll conducted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, but a University of North Florida poll in late November indicated 67% support.

The University of Miami Democrats (UDems) are excited measures like this are finally coming to the ballot.

“For the first time, legalizing weed will be decided not by out-of-touch politicians, but by the people,” a statement from UDems said. “We believe it is essential for Floridians to be able to have a voice regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana. Floridians are sick and tired of the GOP’s culture wars and their attempts to curtail our rights, and this year Ron DeSantis and his cronies will finally have to face their greatest fear: voters.”

Any Florida registered voter who wants to have their voice heard on these two measures will have the chance on Election Day 2024. UM students who aren’t registered to vote or want to check their registration, can find all the information they need at miami.turbovote.org or the University of Miami’s Canes’ Vote Network.

More information about voting can be found on the instagram of the university’s student voting initiative, or Get Out The Vote, @UMGOTV. Any questions can be sent to the GOTV email address at vote@miami.edu.