Why Idaho remains a pot-free island
Marijuana policies unlikely to change soon
Fri., Feb. 1, 2019
Before the midterm elections, cannabis advocates met at the Boise Public Library to discuss their desire to see legislative changes regarding both medical and recreational cannabis in Idaho. With Nevada legalizing recreational marijuana in 2017, and Utah just approving medical marijuana last November, Idaho is now fully bordered by pot-friendlier states, with the exception of Wyoming. This also means, regardless of neighboring state laws, possession of more than 3 ounces of marijuana product is considered a felony. The Marijuana Policy Project in Washington D.C., said Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota were the only states that did not introduce marijuana reform bills in 2018. It’s actually been 13 years since any proposed marijuana initiative has garnered enough signatures to make an Idaho ballot. That doesn’t mean that people haven’t tried. Initiatives in 2012 and 2014 failed to get enough signatures, and a 2016 initiative was withdrawn before signatures could be counted. Paulette Jordan, who would have been Idaho’s first Native American and female governor, lost the 2018 governor’s race to Republican Brad Little. Part of her campaign platform was looking at cannabis laws. “If we decriminalize cannabis, we would save $23 million alone. As a conservative myself, especially when it comes to the utilization of taxpayer resources, I want to see Idaho’s citizens be able to benefit from those savings,” she said in October. Marijuana Policy Project community relations spokesperson Mason Tverg said then-Idaho Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a CBD bill in 2015, and it is his understanding that Little is equally hostile. (CBD is a natural compound in the cannabis plant that causes pain relief vs. intoxication of THC. It can also be extracted from hemp for a variety of wellness and industrial uses.) Little’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment on his thoughts on cannabis. Tverg said Utah’s recent approval of medical marijuana may encourage Idaho leaders to take another look, since many southern Idaho residents follow the same religion as many Utahans, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Coeur d’Alene, closer to Spokane, law enforcement has to choose its battles. Coeur d’Alene Police Detective Mario Rios, a public information officer, said marijuana reform is not in the department’s control, but the drug is one of the easier substances to deal with vs. methamphetamine or heroin. He said a possible unintended consequence if Idaho ever changes its rules on cannabis is what happens to the K-9 dogs currently trained to sniff out marijuana. Rios said several departments in Washington had to replace theirs when that state legalized marijuana. Dogs had to be trained or re-trained to sniff out other substances. Although policy may not change in the near future, some are still looking longer-term. The current initiative process requires that at least 6 percent of registered voters in at least 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts be represented by signatures. Rebecca Schroeder of Coeur d’Alene ran a spirited but unsuccessful campaign for a Idaho Legislature position last fall. A chemist by profession, and with a son with cystic fibrosis, she was driven for a desire to see health care changes, including expanded Medicare coverage and cannabis reform. Voters approved Medicaid expansion, but cannabis reform sometimes drew different reactions. “I got a lot of backlash from some people,” she said. “This is a social justice issue, a health care issue for many. Religious fundamentalists saw legalization as a morally decrepit issue.” Schroeder said even some Idaho Democrats have difficulty with the issue. After she gave a pro-legalization talk, some donors never contributed again. She said the same thing happened to Jordan. She believes revenue from legal cannabis sales could fund education, like in other states, but the Idaho Education Association declined to endorse her or Jordan’s campaign. The association generally leans toward Democratic candidates. Schroeder speculates that if pharmaceutical companies ever advocated for cannabis reform, more citizens and groups would be supportive. Instead, some vital endorsements were withheld. With Canadian legalization, Schroeder hopes to see more interest and legitimate research into the plant’s possible medical benefits. During her campaign, she met a local veteran who had been shot seven times and had issues with PTSD. Convinced he would die from the opioids and anti-anxiety medicine, he turned to cannabis, which he said has improved his life. Schroeder said there would be fewer opioid fatalities if Idaho legalized cannabis, something that been observed in several states that have increased legal access.
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