Guest opinion: Possible legislative compromise on medical marijuana is good news

Utah Policy recently reported some detractors and supporters of Proposition 2 are angry about a potential legislative compromise on medical marijuana.

It appears policy ideas being considered as part of the compromise are causing advocates on both sides to “recoil.” (This may be the first time on record that the opponents and proponents of Prop 2 have agreed on something.)

More importantly, it means the legislative compromise on medical marijuana is being negotiated both intelligently and in the best interest of Utahns: Intelligently, because any properly negotiated, principled compromise is bound to leave either extreme feeling disgruntled; and in Utahns’ best interest, because it is using the best lawmaking process Utahns have – the deliberative, consensus-driven legislative process – instead of a more-flawed ballot initiative process.

Utah is not Washington, D.C., so we do not believe it is a noble thing to push a hardline stance on public policy issues to raise money and influence for ideological special interests or to gain a partisan victory. Utah is also not California, so we do not believe it is a good idea for our laws to be crafted by special interests in back rooms and foisted onto voters through multimillion-dollar issue campaigns, paid for by groups whose members will profit from a new law.

Yes, Utah is generally conservative, and definitely Republican. But what makes Utah great as a political matter is that through (and sometimes despite) our politics, we find ways to arrive at practical solutions – often, but not always, conservative solutions – through consensus-driven compromise. In this, Utah follows the example of America’s Founders in reaching the compromise that became the United States Constitution.

Of course, ideology and partisan politics have an influence on policy and process, but over the span of multiple election cycles they rarely dominate. Almost any cause can win an election or two and therefore drive a particular set of policy debates. But our political culture inevitably reasserts itself over the long term. And in Utah – even on emotional issues like medical marijuana – that culture ultimately finds its grounding in practicality, principles, truth and reasonable dialogue among competing viewpoints.

Contrast that with the politics of Washington, D.C., which would find a place in Utah if either extreme of the medical marijuana issue had its way. That extreme version of politics is defined not by principled compromise, but by trying to make compromise impossible by arguing it is a violation of core ideological ideas and values. It doesn’t try to ground our laws in facts and reason, but rather seeks to ignore facts and distrust reasoning that doesn’t promote a preconceived position.

The people leading negotiations toward a legislative compromise on medical marijuana are doing exactly what Utah needs. They are seeking to meet practical needs. They are doing so based on sound principles. They are conforming their proposed solution to the truth of established medical facts and pursuing a process that will encourage reasonable debate and dialogue in an open legislative forum.

In short, the fact that the legislative compromise is causing some to recoil should be seen not as a sign that the negotiations are in peril, but that those leading the negotiations are doing the reasonable thing in the right way. It is also a sign that the product of those negotiations will likely be appealing to the reasonable middle – Utah’s moderate liberals, genuine centrists and mainstream conservatives.

Utahns should feel encouraged. For the first time since Prop 2 was formalized, there is hope that we can make real progress toward finding a reasonable Utah solution to the debate over medical marijuana.

Derek Monson is vice president of policy at Sutherland Institute.