Initiated measure process requires amending

The prudence of North Dakota’s citizen initiated ballot measures has been the topic of some debate already this year in the wake of several passing last November that some worry were not well thought-in and/or included incomplete directives.

This conversation should continue and state leaders need to identify the weaknesses of the existing system and examine potential remedies within statutory limitations.

At the very least, the system needs to be tweaked.

By now, many have probably read about the complications in launching legal medical marijuana usage. While the message sent by an overwhelming percentage of voters was clear, the practicalities of how to institute the practice based on the approved referendum remain vague. State leaders are struggling with the details of just how to do this. Now, some might say that it is the job of state officials to create the framework based on the will of the people – but it would certainly be easier if the ballot item had been better thought out in the first place. While it is possible that, as some suggest, the Legislature is dragging its feet because the GOP-controlled body doesn’t particularly support medical marijuana, it would be disingenuous to assert that state leaders are trying to scuttle it. They do not have that ability and hopefully aren’t delusional enough to think they can. This is a hugely complex issue that was initiated because it sounded like a good idea, and approved based on voters reading a line or two on a ballot. A lot of things can sound like a great idea with no context – such as happens when a proposal isn’t vetted and debated by lawmakers.

Medical marijuana isn’t the only new measure that might have sounded good but then looms as a challenge in actual practice. Marsy’s Law is another example. Ostensibly, Marsy’s Law was about empowering “victims” of crime with a certain set of constitutional rights. Voters passed the measure; after all, who could vote against victims of crime having rights? The problems with the measure are many, starting with the fact that it was cookie-cutter in its language and structure and in no way written so as to mesh with existing North Dakota law. Challenges stemming from Marsy’s Law are numerous, with one having an impact here in Minot. As a result of Marsy’s Law, police are now more limited in what information they can provide the press, and thus provide residents. And, no, the information withheld is not all just relative to the identity of a person who is a victim of a crime. As the law stands, and as explained to Minot Daily News, it is entirely possible that a shooting could take place in a residential neighborhood or a place of business, and depending upon the circumstance, police would be technically obligated to withhold the location of the shooter. Who, exactly, does that benefit?

Other examples will probably arise this year. Each contributes to the reality that the citizen initiated ballot measure process needs some refinement.