That’s an interesting, difficult-to-answer question, considering both the House and Senate will be electing new leadership before the next session.
But there are indications some lawmakers would give it a try.
Initiatives, however, need only the proper number of signatures and a majority vote on Election Day. Voters get to say yes or no. They don’t get to say, “Maybe, but only if we change this or that.”
But once something passes, it has the ominous imprimatur of the “voice of the people.”
That could be a problem with the marijuana initiative, which is full of flaws, some which could lead to de facto legalization of recreational use. Police, for instance, no longer would be able to easily distinguish legal from illegal forms of the drug. People would be allowed to grow their own marijuana for medical reasons if they live more than 100 miles from a dispensary, adding to the confusion.
And, in any case, being caught with illegal stuff would mean only a $100 fine — little more than a nuisance.
Sources tell me some state lawmakers already are looking to other states for examples of how to write a better law.
Louisiana, for instance, requires medical marijuana to be dispensed only at licensed pharmacies. Just 10 such specialty pharmacies will be allowed to operate at any one time, each covering specific regions of the state.
The pharmacies are forbidden to advertise.
Arkansas has a similar requirement. It allows dispensaries, but requires a licensed pharmacist to be affiliated as a consultant at each one, providing training and advice on things such as providing patients information about risks and making sure people who are impaired or abusing the drug are refused service.
Minnesota also has caught the attention of some lawmakers. It restricts medical marijuana to a specific list of qualifying patients who must be legal residents of the state. You must be diagnosed with one of certain well-defined diseases.
The Utah initiative, on the other hand, is broad in its list of qualifying conditions, including such things as suffering from “chronic pain.”
From the vantage point of early September, it’s difficult to predict whether Proposition 2 will pass. Early opinion polls showed strong support, but that was before opponents had begun making their case. A poll commissioned by Utahpolicy.com this week showed support dropped by about 9 percentage points, although a majority still supports it.
Those polls may reflect how people feel about the general idea of providing relief to suffering people through marijuana. When voters begin studying the initiative’s details, and its possible consequences, opinions may change.
It’s important to get this right, and that means learning from what other states are doing.
In recent years, many states have launched themselves on the road to legal marijuana without much thought to consequences. The drug, as its proponents constantly tell us, is more benign than alcohol. But that’s a fairly low bar. It is, however, not benign.
In a recent issue of The Atlantic, contributing editor Annie Lowrey wrote about the nation’s growing number of marijuana addicts (yes, it can be addictive). She quotes experts who talk about people who can’t quit, who lack motivation and suffer short-term memory loss and an inability to concentrate.
Governments, she wrote, don’t have sufficient public-health protections in place to handle these problems. She said some health experts are “warning that the country is replacing one form of reefer madness with another, careening from treating cannabis as if it were as dangerous as heroin to treating it as if it were as benign as kombucha.”
Politicians in Utah have said they want an effective medical marijuana law that brings real help to those who suffer. That’s difficult to do when the federal government still classifies the plant as a schedule one drug, which limits research.
But it would be irresponsible for them to allow an initiative to become law, without any modifications, when it lets people grow plants at home and provides few safeguards.