There has been a lot of carrying on about the Legislature undermining the “will of the people” by taking up some modifications to law created by Measure 5 in November.
That measure, of course, was the medical marijuana initiative. It earned nearly 64 percent of the vote, but as evidence of just how little scrutiny these ballot measures actually receive (and an illustration of just how utterly stupid it is to legislative at the ballot box), it turns out the measure didn’t actually decriminalize medical marijuana.
In its dozens and dozens of pages of legalese the measure did everything from mandate only organic pot (no pesticides, etc.) to dictate how far from a school a pot dispensary must be, but nowhere did it address the criminal statutes which make growing, distributing, and selling pot illegal.
No, I’m not joking. This came to light during a committee hearing yesterday on a bill before the Legislature to fix the myriad problems with the measure (emphasis mine):
The bill allows for four manufacturing centers and eight dispensaries, Wardner said, but the Health Department may register additional dispensaries if it determines more are needed to increase access. It also adds decriminalization language that was left out of the original law.
“If a person is using medical marijuana legally, we need to ensure that they not be charged with a criminal violation,” Wardner said.
Here’s a link to the measure text as it was circulated. You can see for yourself, there is nothing in it to address the criminal code which makes any sort of growth, distribution, or use of marijuana illegal.
A faction of Democrats (despite the fact that this bill’s sponsors are the legislative leaders for both parties) have tried to paint Wardner’s bill (SB2344) as an effort by the Legislature to “overturn the will of the people.” They have their media mouthpieces working overdrive to push that narrative.
There are also some populist cranks out there who are far to enamored with direct democracy, and apparently don’t believe in checks and balances when it comes to policy making. They’d have us believe that the “will of the people” should be supreme.
But was it the will of the people to pass a medical marijuana measure which didn’t actually decriminalize medical marijuana?
How many people, of the hundreds of thousands of people who voted for the measure, bothered to even glance at the dozens of pages of legalese it was made up of?
Maybe 10 percent? Even that would be generous, I think.
Initiated measures are a truly awful way to make public policy. But if we’re going to do it, the Legislature should wield a check on that power. By a 2/3’s majority they can override a ballot measure or make changes to it.
Instances like Measure 5, a poorly written and ill considered initiative, are exactly why lawmakers have that power.