Montana Politics

Medical Marijuana and the GOP: A Symbol of a Failed Session

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While the GOP “leadership” at the Montana Legislature will no doubt blame their poor grades from Montana voters on the EVIL, LIBERAL, GODLESS media and its decision to cover their actual bills and speeches, it’s becoming clear that Montana voters are seeing exactly what you get when you elect a batch of uninformed, unprepared, often bigoted, ideologues to the People’s House: the worst legislative session in decades, if not longer. The Republicans can scream that they are creating jobs until they are hoarse, but their obsessive focus on an extremist agenda Montanans don’t support has turned this session into an almost complete waste of time, other than as an object lesson in why we shouldn’t vote these people in again. [pullquote]Wouldn’t those hours spent debating UN membership, unconstitutional federal nullification, a personhood amendment, the gold standard, concealed weapons in bars and banks, denying basic rights to our GLBT brothers and sisters, and all those other terrible bills have been better spent crafting a solution to the medical marijuana issue?[/pullquote]

No issue better exemplifies this failure than medical marijuana.

Going in to the session, the Republicans had a mandate to reform medical marijuana laws. Even supporters of the law, people who had voted for it, were concerned about the abuses being perpetrated by “entrepreneurs” like Jason Crist and his kind. Far too many people were getting medical marijuana cards for spurious reasons, making a mockery of federal and state laws designed to control the use of the drug.

Montanans, who aren’t ready for full legalization or even decriminalization across the state, would have absolutely supported sensible regulation and stricter controls over the sale and distribution of cannabis. It would have been smart politics, sensible policymaking, and potentially even a way for the state to generate some desperately needed revenue.

But governing is hard. Legislating is hard. Because grandstanding for partisans and performing for the press is easier, that’s just what the Republicans at the Legislature did. We heard them cry out about imaginary drug cartels, organized crime, and teen prostitution. What we didn’t hear were solutions.

So, now, with the session coming towards a close, they’re considering HB 175, which would turn the decision back to voters. Rather than fixing the legislation (the task of the Legislature), this decision would put Montana voters in an untenable position: either criminalize the behavior of thousands of sick Montanans or continue a legal regime ripe for abuse.

The ballot box isn’t the place to legislate and refine laws; that should have happened in the big building a few blocks away. The Republicans have failed to do their jobs—and as concerned as they are about the Constitution, it’s hard to understand how they don’t realize what they are supposed to be doing.

Wouldn’t those hours spent debating UN membership, unconstitutional federal nullification, a personhood amendment, the gold standard, concealed weapons in bars and banks, denying basic rights to our GLBT brothers and sisters, and all those other terrible bills have been better spent crafting a solution to the medical marijuana issue? Writing a sensible, fact-based budget? Funding schools on something other than assumptions?

Medical marijuana is just a symbol of this session’s failure. Whether it has been an obsessive focus on extremism or just basic lack of understanding about the function of government, the Republican legislature has failed to do its job. While they will cash their paychecks, collect their laptops and health insurance, we’re left holding the bills—and the broken policies they leave behind.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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