If reports in the Globe and other media outlets are correct, the House of Representatives will release its version of the marijuana legalization bill tomorrow. And just a day later, the full House is expected to vote on this bill.
Generally speaking, I have no problem with legislative oversight of the initiative. Research shows that voters are not fully informed on the questions posed by ballot initiatives, and the initiative can have unintended consequences. For instance, some question whether the initiative produces a tighter connection between citizen preferences and fiscal outcomes in states with initiatives. As such, it doesn’t seem to be a stretch to say the legislature can play a role in improving policies approved by the voters.
However, I do have a problem with the House ramming through this bill with little chance for public comment on its contents. To quote the Washington Post’s new motto—democracy dies in the darkness. The public deserves a chance to see what the House is doing here and to comment on these proposed changes.
This move raises a big question then—if the changes proposed by the legislature reflect the will of the people, why won’t they let us look at these changes before they vote?
As I have posted before on this blog, the Massachusetts state legislature has an abysmal track record on openness and transparency. The Senate is perhaps a bit better on this mark than the House, but that’s a low bar to clear for the Senate.
There has been a surge of political activism on the left these days, mostly aimed at our national institutions of government. But if activists are outraged over the efforts of Republicans in the Senate to move forward on health care reform without a public hearing, they should be equally outraged about this move in the House.
The lack of transparency in this process suggests the House is proposing changes that will subvert the will of the voters. Perhaps they are not. But we ought to be able to know this with much more than 24 hours’ notice.