OPINION – I’ve long been skeptical of the initiative process as a means of passing laws but a closer look at concealed carry and medical marijuana initiatives by Utahns reveals how the people can sometimes keep the government in check.
That skepticism started back in the late ’90s when the so-called “Safe To Learn – Safe To Worship” coalition was working to institute its gun control solution in search of a problem.
After Utah relaxed its concealed carry laws and became a “shall issue” state in 1995, there were dire predictions of blood in the streets and shootouts over parking spaces. There was also a concerted effort to create greater restrictions on where permit holders could legally carry; specifically, it sought to outlaw legal carry in schools or churches.
The idea was that some locations were so hallowed that a law-abiding permit holder could not be trusted to possess a personal firearm while visiting them. The drive behind this ballot initiative was long on emotion and nearly devoid of rationality.
Still, it was making headway under the siren song of keeping the children safe.
I remember interviewing members of the PTA on my radio show and discussing the issue with signature gatherers standing outside the Washington County Library in St. George. No one could point to any concrete examples of concealed carry permit holders creating the kind of danger to themselves or others that would justify a preemptive blanket prohibition.
By contrast, most Utah legislators at that time were clear on whether concealed carry was causing the predicted problems or not. It wasn’t. Calls to further expand state power over permit holders through the Legislature were simply not warranted.
This is why self-defense opponents sought to take their cause to the court of public opinion where they stood a better chance of stampeding the frightened herd in the direction of more government.
They knew the voting public was likely to vote on emotion rather than principle, and that’s why they wanted the matter taken out of the hands of the legislators.
Fortunately, the initiative failed to garner enough votes and quietly faded into obscurity.
At that time, I felt a great sense of relief because I did not trust enough of my fellow voters to be sufficiently informed on the issue of concealed carry. Sound bites and bumper sticker slogans have too often proven to be a handy substitute for individual study and contemplation.
Now, nearly 20 years later, I find myself on the opposite side of the ballot initiative question. This time the issue is medicinal cannabis, and I’m actively looking forward to the voters being able to change the law in a beneficial way.
My rationale for supporting a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative this time versus opposing one in the past is very simple.
If Utah citizens vote in 2018 to decriminalize the use of medicinal cannabis, they are effectively voting to limit the power of the state over verifiably ill patients whose medicinal choices would harm no one. In the case of the “Safe to Learn – Safe to Worship” initiative, they would have been voting to expand the state’s power over permit holders who had harmed no one.
See the difference?
In this case, the situation has been neatly reversed with legislators playing the role of unprincipled enablers of government expansion, and the citizenry has a golden opportunity to check that power.
Just as not everyone chooses to apply for and jump through the hoops for a concealed carry permit, not everyone will be availing themselves of medicinal cannabis. In both cases, a fairly limited number of people will be able to exercise their natural rights without fear of government punishment.
Like the unfounded predictions that gun owners would abuse their freedom to shed blood over every minor disagreement, the fears of opponents of medicinal cannabis are also being exaggerated. Those who have actually read the proposed initiative will clearly see that its goal is to limit state power to prevent the abuse of stricken patients who are currently being treated as criminals.
Read the full text of the proposed initiative: 2018 Initiative – Utah Medical Cannabis Act.
There is a clear emotional component to the stories of patients who must choose between suffering while obeying the law or risking criminal consequences for availing themselves of a remedy that works for them.
Sympathy for their plight is nothing of which we should be ashamed. Decent human beings should possess the ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes.
There’s plenty of time between now and the November 2018 ballot for people to carefully study the issue of medicinal cannabis for themselves. That’s enough time for knee-jerk reactions to subside and rational decision making to take place.
I’m confident that, given the facts, enough voters will recognize it’s OK – and sometimes necessary – to limit the power we’ve delegated to the state. Especially when elected representatives are preemptively substituting the force of the state for individual conscience and judgment.
The initiative process exists to remind elected representatives that their job is to guarantee our natural rights and not to micromanage our lives and personal medical decisions.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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