February 8, 2011 in Idaho

Three-quarters of Idahoans back medical marijuana

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE - The respected Boise State University Public Policy Survey, a statewide poll that’s been conducted in the state for more than 20 years, yielded a surprising result Tuesday: 74 percent support for allowing “terminally and seriously ill patients to use and purchase marijuana for medical purposes.”

Just 23 percent said “no” to that in the statewide survey, and 3 percent said they didn’t know.

State Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, who has pending legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho in precisely those situations, said, “I’m not surprised at all, because in similar states out here in the West, the results are 65 to 75 percent (in favor), as long as you focus, like we have, very narrowly on medical marijuana for folks who are in excruciating pain with long-term diseases.”

The statewide survey queried adults in 525 randomly selected Idaho households, included cell phone as well as land-line respondents, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

It also asked how strongly Idahoans agreed that the state “should allow the sale and manufacture of marijuana for medical purposes.” Those results were less overwhelming, with 46 percent agreeing and 46 percent disagreeing.

Carole Nemnich, associate director of the BSU Public Policy Center, said the overwhelmingly favorable results on the “terminally and seriously ill” question were so startling that “we kept thinking, ‘This has to be wrong.’ ”

The survey has queried Idahoans about their views on state policy every year for more than 20 years, but the last one was taken in 2007, as budget cuts nixed the survey for the past two years. The new survey, conducted between Nov. 18 and Jan. 8, is the 20th one taken.

Trail said he’s working now to make sure his medical marijuana legislation, HB 19, gets a hearing. The bill, entitled the Idaho Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, is pending in the House Health and Welfare Committee.

Though neighboring Washington, Montana, Oregon and Nevada all have legalized medical marijuana, the substance is fully criminalized in Idaho, with possession - even traces - classified as a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Anyone under 18 caught with any amount of marijuana also will lose their driver’s license for a year, and possession of three ounces or more is a felony, carrying up to a five-year prison sentence and fines of up to $10,000.

Trail said those neighboring states all enacted their medical marijuana laws by initiative, and he said that’s why they’ve led to problems. He said by going through the legislative process with his bill, which is modeled after a similar, restrictive measure from New Jersey, Idaho can make sure sufficient controls are in place on the use of medical marijuana, which the bill would allow only by prescription for debilitating or terminal illnesses and only up to 2 ounces per patient every 28 days.

Trail said New Jersey and Maryland both enacted their medical marijuana laws through the Legislature, rather than by initiative. “They have far fewer problems - you never see them in the headlines,” he said.

In other findings, the BSU survey also found that Idaho now has more independents than Republicans - the first time that result has been found since the survey began. It found that 39 percent of respondents identified their political affiliation as independent; 34 percent chose Republican; and 22 percent said they’re Democrats.

In the last survey in 2007, Republicans were at 40 percent, independents 28 percent, and Democrats 25 percent. Nemnich said, “This is the first year we’ve seen independents actually spike above Republicans.”

The survey also found that just 49 percent of Idahoans say the state is headed in the right direction - the lowest result ever found by the survey, which saw 70 percent choose that answer in 2004. “It could be a reflection of the tough times,” said BSU professor Stephanie Witt.

In other results, jobs were named the “most important issue” facing the state, at 33 percent, followed by education, 24 percent, and the economy, 17 percent. Fifty-six percent said their household has been “personally impacted by cuts in state programs and services;” 75 percent said budget cuts have affected the quality of children’s education; and 59 percent don’t think the state is investing enough in higher education. However, respondents were divided on whether to raise taxes; 53 percent supported raising the sales tax to support the K-12 public school budget; but only 39 percent favored raising the sales tax a penny to “close the budget gap,” and 41 percent were “strongly” opposed to that.

The survey also found Idahoans favor having their state opt out of health care reform, but also favor using public money to help those who can’t afford health insurance. In a similarly contrasting result, it found that 67 percent view immigration as a problem in Idaho and 58 percent favor passing an Arizona-style anti-immigration law, but 73 percent agree that “a program should be created that would allow illegal immigrants to stay in this country permanently.”


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