STORIES

Politicians Defy Democracy on Voter-Approved Initiatives

By David Jenison on February 14, 2017

Congress is seriously compromised by lobbyists and contributions, many of whom have a financial stake in maintaining the prohibition on cannabis. Politicians and bureaucrats will even go so far as to deny a preponderance of evidence that cannabis has medical benefits so that it can continue to restrict the plant more severely than crack cocaine and crystal meth. This flat-earth resistance to science explains why no state legislature has ever legalized cannabis, but eight states and the District of Columbia have through ballot initiatives. When the issue is put to voters, eight out of 10 states legalized recreational cannabis, and the failure of Issue 3 in Ohio had more to do with its enshrined monopoly for the initiative's financial backers (and maybe a little foul play). 

Nearly every American backs medical cannabis, and 60 percent support recreational cannabis, but how does the local government react when the voters roll back prohibition through ballot initiatives? In many cases, state legislatures defy the will of the people by undoing what their constituents approved. 

Let's start in Massachusetts where U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren continues to fight for medical cannabis in the state with the largest Big Pharma lobby. The state government already delayed the enactment of the voter-approved recreational use initiative, and now it apparently wants to gut it. Per the Boston Globe, proposed changes include "sharply increasing the marijuana tax rate, lowering the 12-plant-per-household limit on home growing pot, and even raising the legal age for purchase, possession, and use up from 21," among other prohibitionist moves. 

Now let's head down to the Sunshine State. In November, Floridians overwhelmingly voted in favor of medical cannabis by a near 3-to-1 margin, but the Miami Heraldreported this last week: "Never mind heart-rending testimony from the dying, diseased and debilitated, who crowded into five public hearings across Florida this week to beg the state medical marijuana rule-makers to honor the voters’ intent. Never mind pleas from would-be cannabis farmers and entrepreneurs, who pleaded with state officials to loosen the exclusive, lucrative and utterly inefficient control held by Florida’s medical-pot cartels. Never mind that Amendment 2, approved by voters in November, demanded that in addition to treating 10 enumerated medical conditions with pot, physicians should also be allowed to prescribe cannabis if they 'believe the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks.' Instead, the misnamed Office of Compassionate Use has floated proposed rules that would allow the Florida Board of Medicine to preempt a doctor’s decision and sharply limit those treatable conditions. The regulations, in another extraordinary invasion of the doctor-patient relationship, would also require a 90-day waiting period before a patient could actually procure prescriptions. Nor will patients be allowed to smoke the stuff—the least expensive delivery system. Of course, this being Florida, the proposed rules contemplate that the state’s entire billion-dollar-plus medical marijuana industry would remain in the grip of seven, politically influential operations—monopolies that each hold an exclusive license to grow, process and dispense marijuana in designated geographic areas. Who needs competition when you’ve got friends in Tallahassee?"

Then there is North Dakota. Voters in that state voted nearly 2-to-1 in favor of Measure 5, a ballot initiative that legalized medical cannabis. How did the state legislature react? First, it voted to delay the implementation of the bill, and now the legislators are gutting it to create a restrictive new law. Representative Pam Anderson of Fargo took a copy of the 33-page ballot initiative and applied a yellow highlighter to every word removed in the new 81-page senate bill, and the only words not highlighted in yellow were the title. Among the many changes, the legislature wants dispensaries to pay $100,000 for certification. 

Rich Wardner, the Republican co-sponsor of the democracy-reversing bill, responded to the public uproar by saying, "People need to back off." Many would argue that Richie Rich needs to fuck off. 

Speaking of rich Republicans, Governor Paul LePage of Maine claims the voters only approved legalization because they "did not know what they were voting on." He apparently thinks his state is filled with stupid people, and he wants to protect them from the bill which he says the legislature should definitely overturn. So far, the legislature has only sought to delay retail sales, not gut the voter-approved initiative, so fingers crossed. 

Finally, let's head down to Arkansas, which became the first southern state to legalize medical cannabis last November. A state senator plans to file legislation to block thevoter-approved law entirely until the federal government ends its prohibition. Another proposal wants to set the "stoned driving" limit at five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. A nanogram, by the way, is a billionth of a gram. Senate Bill 254 also looks to prohibit dispensaries from growing their own cannabis, while another motion insists that each dispensary have a $200,000 surety bond, a $100,000 performance bond and $100,000 in cash. 

Not every state has a ballot initiative process, but many that do have put medical and/or recreational cannabis on the ballot, and the vast majority have been approved by voters. Many state legislatures ignored the voters' will by failing to pass legalization bills, and now they are undoing the democratic vote by undermining constituent-driven initiatives. With state governments making these types of anti-Jeffersonian moves, at what point does the country decide we are no longer a democracy?

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