That Sioux Falls paper picks up the story we discussed here back on July 1, that sponsors’ incautious editing may have limited the scope of its recreational-marijuana initiative to legalize pot paraphrenalia but not pot itself. Naturally, the SDGOP spin blog sees the story as an opportunity to ridicule the sponsors personally. I see a more instructive opportunity to highlight some unusual bipartisan cooperation inspired by the ballot question:
Sens. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, and Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, said they worked with [ballot question sponsor Melissa] Mentele and [Legislative Research Council director Jason] Hancock to understand the discrepancies between the language submitted and the assessment of the measure.
If the measure is approved at the ballot and he is re-elected in 2018, Nesiba said he would be willing to bring legislation clarifying the bill’s intent.
“I would be prepared to bring that amendment forward if needed,” Nesiba said [Dana Ferguson, “Ballot Measure ‘Typo’ Could Cost Recreational Marijuana Campaign,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.07.31].
Senators Nelson and Nesiba may be alphabetically adjacent in the Senate roll call, but they are about as far apart on various ideological scorecards as members of the Legislature can get. Yet Senator Nelson, a strong opponent of marijuana legalization, and Senator Nesiba, who sponsored unsuccessful SB 157 this Session to recognize valid medical marijuana permits from other states, are able to work together to get information for citizens working on a ballot measure.
Of course, Senator Nelson’s respect for the initiative process gives him a justification for voting against amending any flaws in the recreational marijuana measure:
The opponent of recreational marijuana who represents Mentele’s district said he was sympathetic to the ballot measure sponsor’s concerns but likely couldn’t justify voting to amend a voter-approved law down the road [Ferguson, 2017.07.31].
I can’t fault Senator Nelson for that position: if voters approve a ballot measure, legislators should leave it alone. Senator Nelson took exactly that position last winter when he bucked his party’s repeal of Initiated Measure 22. However, if the voters place this recreational marijuana initiative on the ballot and approve it in 2018 with the intent of legalizing, regulating, and taxing recreational marijuana, and if state officials foil that intent by interpreting the initiative to permit only the possession of empty bongs, one could argue that Senator Nelson would show more respect for the voters by supporting the sort of amendment Senator Nesiba suggests to clarify the resolution’s intent. But Senator Nelson is right to be cautious of tinkering with voter-approved initiatives and should support no amendment unless it is backed by genuine and widespread grassroots voter demand.