Idaho Senate rejects call for fed pot crackdown in Washington

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, debates in favor of his anti-marijuana resolution in the Idaho Senate on Monday morning (Betsy Russell)
Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, debates in favor of his anti-marijuana resolution in the Idaho Senate on Monday morning (Betsy Russell)

BOISE – Idaho senators voted along party lines Monday to declare that their state should never legalize marijuana for any purpose, but rejected another measure calling for a federal crackdown on states – like Washington – that do.

“Idaho cannot go into any other state and enforce Idaho law there. We are looking to the federal government,” Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, sponsor of both measures, told the Senate.

But senators from both parties, who spent six hours last week railing against federal intervention in states’ rights on health care reform, said the crackdown measure went too far.

“The hypocrisy and inconsistency in this bill we’re considering right now just astounds me,” said Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise.

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said he’s “absolutely opposed to marijuana use in every sense,” but also backs states’ rights. “For us to ask the federal government to destroy someone else’s state’s rights, I’ll have to disagree with it,” he said.

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said, “What we are asking the federal government to do by this is to impose its federal will on a sister state.” He said Idaho wouldn’t like it if it took a stand against the feds on another issue, and another state called on the federal government to come into Idaho and crack down.

The Senate rejected SJM 101, Winder’s non-binding federal crackdown memorial, on a 13-21 vote.

The debate was different on SCR 112, his measure stating that it’s the policy of the Idaho Legislature that the state should never legalize or decriminalize marijuana for any purpose, including medicinal uses.

“If you legalize marijuana, then will the next argument be that our jails are full of people who distribute cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines?” Winder asked. “How far do you lower the bar? … I think we do want to protect our kids, we want to protect our citizens.”

He warned, “There is an effort nationally going on to legalize marijuana, not only for medical purposes, but for recreational purposes, and Idaho is one of those targeted states.” Winder urged the Senate “to basically stand up for our state, say that we don’t want legalized marijuana.”

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, agreed. “Suddenly we’re supposed to say, well, everybody’s doing it so it must be OK, and we’re supposed to ignore some of the other problems, like increased mental illness problems, both temporary and long-term,” he told the Senate. “We’re supposed to ignore studies that show that it increases the risk of cancer. … It’s a problem. It’s not something that’s safe for our youth or adults.”

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, warned against dismissing concerns about cancer patients for whom smoking marijuana can ease the debilitating nausea caused by chemotherapy. She noted that marijuana already is illegal in Idaho.

“SCR 112 chases ghosts that haven’t appeared yet, in anticipation that they might,” Stennett said. “The part that disturbs me with this resolution is its overreach.”

That measure passed the Senate on a 29-5 vote and now heads to the House. The only “no” votes came from five Senate Democrats, with Bock joining the Republicans in backing that measure.

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