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On marijuana, Republicans are canceling their own votes

by Paul Armentano
| June 13, 2021 12:00 AM

The majority of self-identified Republican voters — as do most Americans of all political persuasions — support legalizing marijuana. But you wouldn’t know that by observing the actions of their elected officials.

In recent months, Republican lawmakers have led numerous efforts to either roll back or repeal voter-initiated laws legalizing and regulating marijuana consumption. In some instances, they’ve even taken steps to prevent their constituents from voting on the issue at all.

Most recently, the Republican-led legislature in Montana — where 57 percent of voters in November decided in favor of a statewide initiative legalizing the production and sale of marijuana to those ages 21 and older — rewrote the law prior to its implementation.

The weakened law is far from what the majority of voters demanded. Among other changes, it reduces the number of marijuana plants that an adult may legally grow in their own private residence. And it exempts nearly half of the counties in the state from fully abiding by the law if they don’t want to.

But this was hardly the first time that a Republican-controlled legislature has moved to set aside aspects of a voter-initiated marijuana law that it didn’t like. In 2018, Utah lawmakers repealed a voter-initiated medical cannabis law in its entirety just days after constituents voted for it.

In other cases, GOP officials have sought to have the courts do their dirty work. In South Dakota, Republican Governor Kristi Noem’s office is spearheading the legal effort to nullify the vote of the 54 percent of her constituents who voted to legalize the adult use of marijuana on Election Day.

And in Mississippi, a legal suit brought on behalf of a Republican mayor successfully canceled the vote of 74 percent of voters in the state who decided in favor of permitting legal marijuana access for authorized patients.

The Mississippi ruling also struck down voters’ ability to conduct any future ballot initiatives — ensuring that the public will not be able to have their say on the issue in the future.

Of course, Republican leaders seeking to deny their constituents the ability to decide their own marijuana laws is nothing new.

In Nebraska, members of the state Supreme Court struck down a 2020 ballot initiative months after it had been approved by the Secretary of State’s office. Polling in the state showed that 77 percent of Nebraskans backed the proposal, but they never got the chance to show their support at the polls.

More recently, Florida’s Republican attorney general successfully brought suit to preemptively deny a proposed 2022 legalization initiative from ever appearing on the ballot.

For years, politicians have proclaimed that “Elections have consequences.” Increasingly, when it comes to elections deciding marijuana policy in the United States, Republican lawmakers are seeking to ensure that they don’t.

Whether or not one personally supports or opposes cannabis legalization, these cynical and undemocratic tactics ought to be a cause of deep concern. In a healthy and functioning democracy, elected officials represent the views of the electorate. They should not consistently seek to undermine them.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He’s the co-author of “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?”