May 8, 2011 in Idaho

Medical marijuana push advancing on two fronts in Idaho

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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BOISE – Conservative Idaho might not seem like the most fertile ground for a medical marijuana movement, but supporters have launched an initiative drive that could change the terms of the debate.

The reason: Seventy-four percent of Idahoans say they support allowing “terminally and seriously ill patients to use and purchase marijuana for medical purposes.” That was in this year’s Boise State University public policy survey, a result so overwhelmingly favorable that researchers initially thought it had to be wrong.

Heidi Golden, a Boise florist and spokeswoman for Compassionate Idaho, said her older sister died at 48 last year of breast cancer. Before she died, “she had to move to Oregon, where she would not have to be a criminal,” Golden said. “She was very debilitated, very, very ill.” Marijuana “was nontoxic to her, it wouldn’t hurt her, it wouldn’t be killing her liver like the morphine and all the heavy painkillers.”

Golden said she believes denying marijuana to seriously ill patients is “so completely wrong.”

State Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, sponsored legislation this year to legalize medical marijuana for the terminally and seriously ill, with strict restrictions. Among them: Only state-registered “alternative treatment centers” could grow or distribute the marijuana, and registered patients with prescriptions could get just 2 ounces every 28 days.

The new initiative would let patients get more than twice as much marijuana – up to 2.5 ounces every 14 days – and, in addition to the alternative treatment centers, would let patients grow their own or have a “primary caregiver” do it for them. Each primary caregiver could supply as many as four patients.

Trail said his legislation was drafted after checking with Idaho law enforcement, which advised that “tightly controlled and monitored alternative dispensaries” are the best distribution method. He sent a copy of the Idaho initiative to the National Model Medical Marijuana Project in Washington, D.C., for review, but said he believes legislation is a better way to go, because it brings all parties – including law enforcement and state regulatory agencies – together to work out implementation issues in advance.

Trail said states such as Washington and Montana that legalized marijuana by initiative are having more issues than those, like Maryland and New Jersey, that passed legislation. “You never see them in the headlines,” he said.

His bill didn’t advance this year, but it did get an informational hearing. Afterward, the conservative House Health and Welfare chairwoman, Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, said she thought the issue warranted more discussion.

Jasper LiCalzi, a political scientist at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, said an initiative could appeal to Idaho’s “anti-government, pro-individual strain,” while the medical issue could attract others who would never smoke marijuana. “People think it’s just for potheads,” he said. “They have to get it across, no, this is a legitimate health care issue.”

The initiative has been circulating since Jan. 19. It needs 47,432 signatures to make the November 2012 ballot, but it has another year – until April 30, 2012 – to meet the goal. So far, Golden said, “it’s going really well” in an all-volunteer effort, although organizers don’t know precisely how many signatures have been collected.

Said LiCalzi, “If enough people are starting to sign this petition, that would poke the Legislature in next year’s session maybe to pass Trail’s legislation or look at it more closely.”

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