Friday, November 2, 2007

Arguments against pot proposal off base

Ryan Davidson is the chairman of the Liberty Lobby of Idaho, a group seeking to legalize marijuana in Hailey. The Mountain Express, in its election endorsements published in the Wednesday, Oct. 31, edition, advocated a vote against proposed initiatives to legalize marijuana in Hailey. City Attorney Ned Williamson also came out against the proposal.


In Wednesday's Mountain Express, Hailey City Attorney Ned Williamson demonstrates yet another sad example of how the government tries to improperly interfere with the initiative process. Municipalities will break laws, bend laws, and selectively enforce laws in order to keep initiatives off the ballot that they disagree with. If that doesn't work, they'll sue initiative proponents, or force initiative proponents to sue them.

Once in court, campaign funds can be slowly bled off through years of litigation, while the city gets to use the unlimited resource of tax dollars. If the government fails in court, the next step is to have public officials—using their official titles to give their misrepresentations legitimacy—slander initiative proponents in the press in an attempt to mislead citizens into voting against the initiative. It's the whole "kill the messenger" routine. It looks like that's what stage of the game we're in now. Once the initiatives pass, the next step will most likely include the city violating the will of the people by repealing the initiatives, much like the Idaho Legislature did with the term-limits initiative.

The city attorney brazenly declares that if the initiatives pass, there will be a lawsuit to challenge them, because "legalizing marijuana is in violation of state code." It's obvious to me that he hasn't even read the initiatives. For instance, the "Tax and Regulate" initiative doesn't actually legalize marijuana. It calls for the creation of a community oversight committee to examine ways that marijuana could be regulated in Hailey. The committee must hold public hearings and take public testimony on the issue. After a year, they will present their recommendations to the City Council. There's nothing to stop the committee from coming up with an ordinance that would be non-binding, or effective only when the Legislature changes its laws. The overriding goal with these initiatives, of course, is to send a loud and clear message to the state that the people of Hailey demand changes to the marijuana laws.

The city attorney's pronouncement that a legal challenge will occur also just flat ignores basic legal logic. A citizen only has the right to challenge a city ordinance in court if they are uniquely and particularly harmed by it. None of the four initiatives will harm any citizen. The same logic applies to the state. The attorney general does not spend his time looking though every Idaho city's code books for ordinances that conflict with state code. If he did—by the way—he would have sued Hailey for having an unconstitutional residency restriction for petition circulators.

Which brings me to my final point. The city attorney's phony concern for protection of tax dollars is nothing short of a hypocritical joke. The city has been defending their residency requirement for three years in court (at a tremendous cost to the taxpayers) even though they knew full well that it's a violation of the First Amendment.

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