Negotiations about the federal debt limit loom large in the foreground of U.S. politics. The next big event on the horizon is the series of Republican presidential primaries, leading up to the 2012 general election.
In Colorado, two groups are gathering signatures for ballot initiatives: one to legalize recreational marijuana use, and the other to repeal the 2006 amendment to the Colorado constitution that banned same-sex marriage. Both efforts demonstrate what a mess the state constitution has become.
Must every political twitch in Colorado require a constitutional amendment? In many cases, the answer is yes because some previous twitch was enshrined in the constitution.
Issues of fundamental rights do belong in that document. Whether it makes sense to for a popular vote to decide the future of marriage among consenting adults, right now states do issue marriage licenses, and the Colorado constitution currently specifies the limits. Although the recent history of marriage rights in the United States is a litany of fits and starts, the trajectory is fairly clear: The list of states that allows same-sex marriage is growing, and Colorado is not very likely to join that list next year. The question probably will appear on the ballot several more times before eventually passing. The issue of marijuana never belonged in the constitution, Prohibition the 18th Amendment, repealed by the 21st didnt belong in the U.S. Constitution either, and it aided traffickers far more than it contributed to temperance.
Still, voting on legalizing marijuana in Colorado seems like a good idea, despite the fact that the state cant accomplish legalization as long as the federal government still considers marijuana illegal.
What such a vote would accomplish is to give Coloradans an opportunity to speak out, collectively (if tangentially), about the medical marijuana mess.
Voters rightly approved the use of marijuana to treat certain serious conditions that did not respond to other drugs. They didnt intend medical marijuana cards to be get-out-of-jail-free cards. They thought they were passing a law to help patients with cancer, glaucoma, and a limited list of other ailments. What they got, instead, was a mechanism that also enabled (and, incidentally, taxed), the recreational use of marijuana by hundreds of thousands of patients and recreational marijuana what the proposed 2012 ballot question would allow them to vote on.
If a majority of Coloradans think pot is just fine, they can say so, and then the state attorney general can begin to negotiate with the federal government on the issue. But if most voters disapprove (as they did in 2006), state legislators should begin thinking about what that means for the structures theyve built to regulate medical marijuana.
Whatever decision voters make on same-sex marriage and recreational marijuana, they ought to spend a few moments pondering the state constitution. Conflicting amendments have backed the state into a very tight budgetary corner. They have been used to limit civil rights (and, in the case of the 1992 anti-gay-rights amendment, been declared unconstitutional).
Right now, many Coloradans sat they want smaller government. A good way to move in that direction would be to be very, very thoughtful about what voters ask the government to ban or facilitate.
For a few years, at least, citizens need to base their votes not only on their personal opinions of each proposal, but also on the shape of government that the whole mass of special-interest bills might create.