Friday, December 30, 2005

Ignoring your constituency

The group behind the recently passed Denver city ordinance that makes it legal to possess 1 ounce or less of marijuana says it's going to put the issue to a vote Colorado-wide. One might say that it's a good next step for those that want to legalize the drug. But there's also the small issue that Denver city officials are ignoring what their constituents voted for and ordering Denver city cops to bust marijuana possession based on state law.

You might think that Denver city officials' hands are tied -- state law supercedes city law. Not necessarily. Denver has "home-rule status" and successfully challenged a state law that prohibits Colorado cities from banning pit bulls. So it now has a law banning pit bulls while the rest of the state can do no such thing. Likewise for gun control. Denver has more restrictive gun laws than the rest of the state despite state laws prohibiting such.

What makes the pot law different? Is it personal distaste on the part of the politicians? Are they playing to the minority that voted against the measure? Are they allowed to do that?

The Colorado state government had something similar a little while back with Amendment 2, which forbade laws that prohibit discrimination against homosexuals. The amendment passed 53% to 46%. State officials defended the amendment all the way to the US Supreme Court (*). Which is what they were supposed to do. I'm sure many state officials found the amendment distasteful. But they are employees of the people and the people spoke.

Now how about Denver city officials start doing their jobs?

* The amendment, passed in 1992, was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1996.

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