Editorial Round-Up: Sunshine Laws and A Medical Marijuana Crackdown

Editorial round-up takes a look at responses to a proposed change to Tennessee's open-meeting laws and the federal government's crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries.
by | October 25, 2011

The clouding of Tennessee sunshine laws and the federal government's role in policing state's marijuana policies have captured space on newspaper editorial pages.

Some Tennessee county commissioners have backed an amendment to the state's open meeting law that would allow municipal officials to meet privately to discuss issues before they come to a formal vote. According to The Tennessean, supporters say that is the same right allotted to members of the state General Assembly and would allow for a more efficient and informed decision-making process.

But the Knoxville News-Sentinel was one of several newspapers that used its editorial page to vehemently oppose the proposal. Railing against local officials "who want to keep their dealings secret," the newspaper implored state officials to forestall any efforts to "gut" the state's open-meeting law. The News-Sentinel warned that, in some cases, a majority of members of a board or council could meet in secret without having to inform the public.

"The public's business should be conducted in public," the editorial states. "That's a principle our public servants must affirm."

Sevier County's Mountain Press concurred and characterized the proposition as an "assault" on Tennessee's sunshine laws. The open-meeting law, as it stands, is a "model of government transparency," the Press's editorial board writes. "Assaults on the law... cannot be allowed to pass."

The federal government's mixed signals regarding medical marijuana dispensaries are putting state officials in California and Colorado at a disadvantage, newspapers from both states agree. But the Sacramento Bee and The Coloradoan have very different ideas about how they should proceed.

From California's state capital, the Sacramento Bee criticized state Attorney General Kamala Harris for failing to take the lead after Justice Department attorneys announced earlier this month that they would crack down on major dispensaries and growers. Those operations that are legitimate, the Bee says, are right to look to Harris because they "need more clarity on what they can and can't do."

She should meet with the U.S. attorneys and outline her own blueprint for how California's medical marijuana policy should work, the newspaper writes. Such actions would increase the likelihood that state lawmakers would make a smart decision about how to move forward.

"Californians elected Harris to lead on major legal issues like this, not stand on the sidelines," the Bee asserts.

But in Colorado, where the federal government has undertaken a similar initiative on medical marijuana dispensaries, The Coloradoan's editorial board endorses a ban on such operations until the legal muddle is cleared. In Larimer County, for example, the number of medical marijuana registry card has risen tenfold since dispensaries were opened. That "places the legitimacy of the (dispensary) model in question," The Coloradoan writes.

That model hasn't effectively distinguished between legitimate patients and those who would "exploit" lax laws to gain access to what is still technically a controlled substance, the newspaper says. Until these problems can be resolved, the state should return to the more limited "caregiver" model.

Elsewhere across the country, the Baltimore Sun laments a what it considers an ethical lapse by a county council member.

"Politicians are a lot like middle school students," the Sun editorial board writes. "The moment you think they are mature and thoughtful enough to do the responsible thing, they are bound to disappoint." The newspaper seems severely disappointed that a county council member has been working for a state department, which is a direct conflict of interest in his duties as a council member and a violation of the Baltimore County charter. The editorial calls for the council member's resignation.

In central Pennsylvania, The Sentinel critiques efforts by state lawmakers to pass a stringent voter photo identification law.

The Sentinel admonishes Republican legislators for pushing a voter identification law, already passed in seven other states, which "is unsupported by facts and fueled mainly by the rhetoric of partisan politics." Local election boards were not consulted during the bill's drafting, the editorial points out, and, as written, it leaves too many questions for local officials about how it would be enforced.

The potential issue of disenfranchisement should also be considered. "As the civic-minded lament every election cycle: the real problem in America is not fraudulent voters, it is voter apathy," The Sentinel writes. "Here is one more reason not to vote. Is that what we really want?"

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