Pot Argument in Utah Offers an Important Lesson on Democracy

Pot Argument in Utah Offers an Important Lesson on Democracy

An ongoing debate over marijuana possession in Utah does not appear close to being resolved. As cannabis advocates and state lawmakers continue to make their points, there is a lesson on democracy to be learned here. It is a lesson most Americans would do well to take note of.

What is that lesson? That there is an enormous difference between a true democracy and a representative republic. The United States was formed as a representative republic, not a democracy. There are many good reasons for this, not the least of which is the reality that true democracy ultimately leads to chaos.

No Recreational Pot in Utah

At issue in Utah is the fact that recreational marijuana is still not allowed. The passage of Proposition 2 in 2018 paved the way for medical cannabis. It was seismic for Utah, according to the owners of Provo’s Deseret Wellness pharmacy. They acknowledge that state lawmakers have met their legal obligations to establish a medical cannabis program. But lawmakers have not budged on recreational marijuana.

Marijuana advocates are obviously unhappy. They want to see Utah follow states like California, Colorado, and Oregon. Their main argument is that a majority of Utah voters want it.

In a recent op-ed published by the Daily Utah Chronicle, the writer cited statistics showing that 58% of Utahns are in favor of state-legal recreational marijuana. She then asked, “why are our representatives still stalling?” Maybe they aren’t stalling. Perhaps they are doing what they believe is best for the state.

Understanding their motives is important. Especially when advocates, like the writer of the op-ed piece, accuse lawmakers of lacking the “willingness to make changes that benefit citizens in Utah.”

Elected to Represent Us

In a representative republic, lawmakers at every level are elected to represent the people. But representation does not equal being lapdogs. It doesn’t mean that representatives do everything their constituents demand without question. It is still a lawmaker’s responsibility to act in the best interests of their constituents, even if those constituents disagree about what is actually best.

In a democracy, the majority gets what they want. Is that a good thing? That depends on your point of view. If 51% of the voters wanted to legalize murder while the other 49% wanted to maintain the status quo, a truly democratic vote would produce some interesting results. Those in favor of it would say that democracy worked for them. Those on the other side would say it worked against them.

Furthermore, the fact that a majority of voters approved legalized murder doesn’t make the decision a good one. Legalized murder isn’t best for society just because 51% say it is. The same is true of anything. Majority opinion is not always right. And in fact, history has proved time and again that it’s often wrong. That is why we don’t have a democracy. It is why we have a representative republic instead.

Listen, Don’t Assume

It could be that legalizing recreational marijuana would actually be a good thing for Utah. Maybe legalization truly is in the best interests of state residents. But perhaps it’s not. As the debate rages though, it is incumbent on both sides to listen to one another rather than assuming.

It is also wise to remember that the U.S. and its fifty states are organized as a representative republic. We are not a true democracy. It actually works in our favor because elected representatives have the ability to do what they believe is best even if voters disagree. It is a good system that has worked for nearly 250 years.

Donna T. Dipietro

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