Were not big fans of sweeping legislative change brought about through referendum.
It leaves too much nuance un-discussed, and renders complex issues as yes-or-no questions.
And were not sure, yet, what to make of the efforts to legalize marijuana in Michigan. It seems we need to have a lot more discussion about the regulatory environment that would accompany legalized pot before we go ahead and open the floodgates.
But heres a point on which we absolutely agree with the folks at MILegalize, the group spearheading the effort to get a pot legalization measure on the November ballot:
They have followed the rules, and done what they were supposed to do according to the letter of the law. But the courts seem determined, so far, to keep them off the ballot here in Michigan.
Its a situation that cries out for simple, curt phrasing: That just aint right.
The state court of claims knocked the marijuana question off the ballot, saying too many of the 354,000 signatures to get the question on the ballot were collected outside the 180-day window set out in state law.
The courts right, in literal terms. The law does say you have to get signatures within that 180-day limit. And MILegalize, a pretty grassroots organization that didnt have the money to pay signature gatherers, took longer than that to get what they needed.
But its also true that the law lays out a provision that should allow MILegalize to rebut the challenge the court is making about their signatures. And beyond that, the law itself is probably overly restrictive in the way it limits citizen-driven initiatives to reach the ballot.
Again, were not big fans of legislation-by-referendum. The legislative process is a far finer law-making instrument, and allows for consideration of the subtleties and contradictions that attend significant policy issues. Pot legalization is a perfect example: Whether youre for or against, its probably universally understood that this state would need an array of new regulatory schemes (involving how to test drivers, for instance, for marijuana use) in order to make it work. Thats best debated through the legislative process – not in an up-or-down vote.
But in Michigan, of course, the Legislature is a dysfunctional waste, overly partisan, bought-off by special interests and generally uninterested in constructive legislation. Thats one reason Michiganders have turned so frequently, in the last few cycles, to the petition process. Let the people decide for themselves isnt such a bad mantra in a state where lawmakers just wont do their jobs.
Which brings us back to the pot legalization measure, specifically. MILegalize is exactly the kind of group that has to resort to citizen initiative because it cant count on the Legislature to deal with its issue rationally. Polls show a majority of Michigan voters would probably embrace legalized pot, but youd never get the GOP majority in Lansing to even discuss it.
But MILegalize is not a huge organization with vast resources – like unions or right-wing groups that have sponsored other petition drives. So it takes longer than 180 days to get volunteers to knock enough doors to get signatures.
The law is supposed to give groups like MILegalize a good chance to re-confirm signatures collected outside the 180-day window, but that has been thwarted by requirements that would involve city and county clerk verification, even though MILegalize used the states own qualified voter file to collect signatures.
MILegalize is arguing that it should be able to make the case for its signatures, in a reasonable fashion, and also that the 180-day limitation is unfair.
Meanwhile, the Legislature has made it even harder for groups like MILegalize by eliminating discretion about enforcing the 180-day signature window.
The sum total of all this, though, is a pretty clear disenfranchisement of the citizen right to put issues on the ballot.
The Michigan Supreme Court will now consider whether to take up the issue; wed like to see it reverse the lower court, and give a nod to grassroots citizen-led democracy.
Beyond that, itd be nice if the Legislature backed away from its disdain for ballot initiatives. Yes, theyre messy and troublesome, especially when many of them make the ballot, as they did in 2012. But heres some advice for lawmakers: Do your jobs more earnestly and effectively, and well bet fewer citizens will be moved to do it for you.