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October 31, 2012
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Editorial: Voter beware; stakes high in policy decisions

Immortal college football coach John Heisman advised, “When in doubt, punt.”

Voters faced with a bewildering blitz of statewide ballot measures might want to keep in mind this piece of conservative strategy.

The nine statewide measures on the Nov. 6 ballot include major policy proposals related to gambling, marijuana and taxes.

The devil’s in the details, the cliché goes. Understanding the far-reaching ramifications of these proposals requires wading through the weeds.

For example, the text of Measure 80 takes three pages in the state voters guide and begins, “Whereas the people of the State of Oregon find that Cannabis hemp is an environmentally beneficial crop ...”

The measure moves from a pro-environment message to a pro-business pitch, referring to paper, textiles, seed oil, biomass and biodiesel. The measure drops names, identifying George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and a lesser-known Founding Father, Gouvernour Morris, as cannabis advocates.

The measure invokes the Bible (Genesis 1:29), the Constitution (10th Amendment) and mellowness (“... most users avoid aggressive behavior, even in the face of provocation.”)

The measure even has a no-slacker clause. One percent of the profits from state-regulated marijuana sales would go to persuade students that if they grow up to be consumers of psychoactive substances, they still must be responsible adults.

In short, the measure would legalize the recreational use of marijuana, regulating it like alcohol. The idea makes law enforcement cringe, even if the father of the country cultivated cannabis.

Considering the length and number of measures, conscientious voters can be excused for wondering if they are making choices in line with their personal and political views.

We’re not criticizing the people’s right to initiative, but the differences between direct democracy and policy making by the Legislature should be acknowledged.

The legislative process isn’t pristine, for sure. It’s like making sausage, and money makes the grinder turn. Sometimes, the more you know, the less appealing it gets. But a bill must navigate multiple levels, meaning many people — lawmakers, lobbyists, ordinary citizens — have a shot to improve or eviscerate someone’s idea. The process requires compromise, and winners rarely get everything they want.

Plus, if the Legislature passes an unwise policy with unintended consequences, it can be undone without violating “the will of the people.”

The initiative process isn’t pure, either. It takes money to hire people to gather signatures. Then it takes money to conduct a statewide campaign.

The stakes are high in these campaigns because winner takes all. There is no compromise position available to voters.

For voters who like dramatic change, ballot measures provide hope. Other voters should proceed cautiously.

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The News-Review Updated Oct 31, 2012 11:10AM Published Nov 8, 2012 09:14AM Copyright 2012 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.