Politicians Don’t Know Best

Politicians Don’t Know Best
By Vin Narayanan
Date December 17, 2018

Theoretically, our elected representatives are supposed to represent the will of the people. But when it comes to “sin” issues, like marijuana (medical or otherwise), casinos, alcohol and tobacco, politicians of all stripes give in to their worst big government impulses.

Their instincts are to restrict, control and police. And they are all too willing to ignore the voters and substitute their judgment instead.

“We the people” gets replaced by “We politicians know better.” Or in the case of Utah, “All political power is inherent in the people,” as written in the state’s constitution, becomes “We reserve the right to fix the mistakes of the people.”

In November, Utah voters passed Proposition 2, a sweeping medicinal marijuana ballot initiative. The ballot initiative called for, among other things:

  • Up to 40 medical marijuana dispensaries
  • Edibles to be allowed for medicinal purposes
  • Patients dealing with a wide variety of autoimmune disorders to be granted access to medical marijuana
  • The prohibition of smoking medicinal marijuana.

About a month after election day, Utah adopted medicinal marijuana legislation passed by the legislature (60-13 in the House and 22-4 in the Senate) and signed by the governor. The legislation was significantly more restrictive than Proposition 2 on every point except for one.

The new legislation, which overrides Proposition 2, includes the following provisions:

  • Allows up to seven cannabis dispensaries
  • Prohibits edibles except for gelatin
  • Allows treatment for only two autoimmune diseases – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

How’s that for reflecting the will of the people? In addition to ignoring the voters, Utah opened itself up to federal law enforcement action by insisting a state agency get involved in the ordering and distribution of medical cannabis. That could violate federal law. There’s a reason other states didn’t get physically involved in the process (other than issuing regulations) – the risk was too high.

If you think lawmakers feel bad about ignoring the will of the voters, think again. State Rep. Merrill Nelson is quite open about what he thinks of the will of the people…

We [legislators] have the right to override what the people do by initiative… We have a right to moderate the excesses of the initiative. (Salt Lake Tribune)

If this had been a ballot proposal about reducing property taxes or sales taxes, do you think Nelson would be saying the same thing?

I doubt it. And I suspect you do too.

When it comes to marijuana, our politicians think they know best. But they don’t.

You do. Voter initiatives have driven the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana throughout the country. If it were up to the politicians, it would still be illegal in most states.

Our elected officials need to learn that the will of the people can’t be ignored just because it concerns marijuana. That type of misguided paternalism has no place in our democracy, and it needs to be called out wherever we see it.

If you’re inclined, please write to the governor of Utah and Rep. Nelson and let them know that trampling on the rights of voters is unacceptable. The will of the people needs to be respected, no matter the issue.

Good investing,

Vin Narayanan
Senior Managing Editor, First Stage Investor

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