Monday, May 10, 2021
I was very pleased to have received the following guest post content from Professor Andrew D. Appleby of Stetson University College of Law:
Although the recreational marijuana movement has gained momentum at the state level, several states may be unable to legalize recreational marijuana because of tax limitations in their state constitutions. A primary motivation for legalization is increased tax revenue, and every state that has legalized recreational marijuana also taxes it. Many states, however, have broad constitutional provisions designed to make tax increases more difficult, most notably provisions that require supermajority approval to create or increase any tax. There appears to be a third wave of these tax supermajority provisions proliferating. Florida voters approved a constitutional provision in 2018 and several other states, including New York in 2021, have considered supermajority approval provisions. These provisions have several unintended consequences, as discussed in my forthcoming article, "Designing the Tax Supermajority Requirement."
These provisions impact recreational marijuana in several ways. Most state tax supermajority provisions apply only to the legislative process, so many states are forced to use the voter approval process for marijuana legalization efforts. Prior to 2021, only two states had legalized recreational marijuana through the legislative process. Neither state has a tax supermajority requirement, and neither state would have satisfied the requirement. Vermont was unable to include a tax provision in its initial legalization bill and needed to enact a separate tax statute two years later. Three states legalized recreational marijuana through the legislative process in 2021. None of the legislation passed with two-thirds supermajority approval.
Recreational marijuana is still divisive in many states for many reasons, particularly as it remains illegal federally, so achieving supermajority approval is difficult. Even in politically liberal states, recreational marijuana legalization voter initiatives have passed by narrow margins. In the 2016 election year, for example, the Massachusetts initiative passed with 53% of the vote and the California initiative garnered only 57% approval. Four states legalized recreational marijuana through ballot initiatives in 2020. Only New Jersey achieved supermajority approval, and just barely, with 67% voting in favor. South Dakota, which has a tax supermajority provision and “one subject” provision in its constitution, had its legalization initiative declared unconstitutional, with the South Dakota Supreme Court currently considering the appeal.
Florida is also grappling with constitutional hurdles in its marijuana legalization efforts, as the Florida Supreme Court struck down a proposed ballot measure because of misleading language. Even if the measure were to appear on the ballot, Florida has an additional tax supermajority provision that requires two-thirds supermajority approval for voters to amend the constitution to create or increase a tax. The experiences in South Dakota and Florida illustrate how tax supermajority provisions have the unintended consequence of impeding recreational marijuana efforts.