What's the Point of Voting When Lawmakers Ignore the Vote?

05/12/2015 03:04 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2016

You may recall last year that we voters here in Oregon passed statewide marijuana legalization. We're one of the 26 states with some form of citizen lawmaking ability, so we crafted a marijuana legalization initiative, got it on the ballot, and passed it with a 56 percent majority.

The initiative legalized personal marijuana possession and growing and established a system for commercial production, processing, and sales. Much of what was in the initiative was copied-and-pasted from our state's liquor laws, including two key provisions: only a vote of the people in a city or county could ban commercial marijuana licenses and only the state can tax marijuana.

Another huge provision in the new marijuana law was that it was not to affect the existing medical marijuana law. This was so prominent in the campaign for legalization that it was written into the initiative in three separate sections.

In order to implement the recreational marijuana law that declared tinkering with medical marijuana off-limits, the Legislature gathered five representatives and five senators in a joint committee, which was acknowledged often by those who couldn't resist the opportunity to be stand-up comedians ("joint committee, get it?").

Then they let us in on the real joke -- their respect for the will of the voters.

As soon as our Measure 91 was certified, the lobbyists emerged from counting their piles of money to begin subverting democracy. Lobbyists representing city councils and county commissions don't like two key provisions on local marijuana bans and local marijuana taxes. They want the ability for a handful of councilors or commissioners to be able to ban or tax marijuana, no matter what their local constituents think or how the majority of the state voted.

Lobbyists representing commercial marijuana growers and law enforcement don't like the current system of medical marijuana growing. They want the legislature to clamp down with restrictive limits on how many medical marijuana plants may be grown, especially within residential zones.

So this Measure 91 Implementation Committee began meeting twice a week beginning in February. Now their time is up and the committee accomplished virtually nothing as they debated how local city councils and county commissions can ban medical marijuana and how the state should reduce the size of medical marijuana gardens.

Maybe we should be thankful they got so bogged down in the local bans and medical garden size issue that they never even got around to establishing the right of localities to add their own marijuana tax, contrary to the legalization initiative the majority supported.

One of the few things that have been accomplished in the recreational marijuana implementation has been a series of "listening tours" conducted by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), the agency tasked with regulating legal pot by Measure 91. On those tour stops, we learned that at least three of the five commissioners voted against the measure, including the chair, who is one of the 36 county district attorneys who were unanimously against legalization.

Another accomplishment has been the seating of members of the Rules Advisory Committee, the experts selected to help guide the OLCC in implementation. Of those members, at least six are cops, district attorneys, or county officials who opposed marijuana legalization and believe such nonsense as marijuana legalization being a cause of child abuse and domestic violence.

So I wonder, what is the point of having an initiative system if the legislature is just going to ignore what the people voted on? This isn't a story about marijuana. This is a story that should frighten everyone supporting any issue on the left or the right. What good is your GMO labeling initiative or your gun rights initiative or your reproductive rights initiative when we've established the precedent that the lobbyists can just have the legislature line-item veto your initiative's key provisions?