One need look no further than the fallout from last year’s vote to legalize recreational marijuana to see that Maine’s citizen-initiative method of making laws is in need of fixing.
Voters were asked to approve a law (specifically, a 28-page bill) that would allow adults to use marijuana and permit businesses to grow, test and sell the plant. Beyond those basics, the bill was full of myriad details with ramifications in terms of commercial enterprise, law enforcement, taxation and more. But 28 pages cannot fit on a ballot, and so all voters saw at the polls was a 46-word question that couldn’t begin to cover the law’s full complexity.
Now, a year later, we are stuck in what one marijuana proponent recently called “a kind of limbo.” Adults can legally use marijuana but there are no businesses growing, testing, processing or selling it for them. Bans and delays were put in place across the state as lawmakers worked to tweak the law. An attempt by the Legislature to make fixes, however, was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage.
In a different way, the same problem of condensed complexity pops up with other ballot questions, too, such as the ranked choice voting question — also approved last fall — that got bogged down in questions of constitutionality.
The current citizen initiative process is time-consuming, costly and can leave people on any side of a given issue frustrated and frazzled. We support the principle of allowing citizens to work for direct enactment of laws, but that process ought to be reviewed and revised so that future legal limbo can be avoided.