BOISE – A proposed constitutional amendment that would have prevented the legalization of marijuana and other drugs without the approval of two-thirds of the Idaho Legislature died in the House on Thursday.
The legislation failed to attain the two-thirds majority needed for a proposed constitutional amendment and died on the 42-28 vote. It needed 47 votes to pass.
The legislation had already cleared the Senate. Had it passed the House, it would have gone to voters in 2022, needing only a simple majority.
Lawmakers in the Republican-dominated House during the two-hour debate clashed on two main themes: the help marijuana can give those living with unending pain and the damage it can cause those, especially young people, who overdo its recreational use.
The final vote saw some of the chamber’s most conservative members teaming with its most liberal members to defeat the measure. None of the chamber’s 12 Democratic members supported the measure.
In conservative Idaho, the legislation was largely seen as a reaction to surrounding states that have approved medical and recreational marijuana use. Backers of the legislation cited California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado as examples of states Idaho didn’t want to become.
“When we look over at Denver or Seattle or Portland, do we as Idahoans see Boise next?” Republican Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt asked her colleagues. “Is that what we want to see our cities, our towns, our communities become? Or do the people want us to raise that bar when we consider legalizing (drugs)?”
Idaho is one of only three states without some sort of policy allowing residents to possess products with even low amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
Residents can cross the state border in nearly every direction and find themselves in a place where marijuana can be bought for recreational or medicinal purposes.
Support for Idaho medicinal marijuana use is growing, with legalization activists trying to get an initiative on the ballot in 2022.
Lawmakers opposing the legislation, many of whom said they never used marijuana and had no plans to try it, said the constitutional amendment was too broad and could prevent the approval of useful drugs in Idaho. Opponents also said it would prevent the legalization of such products of CBD oil, which contains a small amount of THC.
While the legislation’s sponsors focused on drugs like heroin and methamphetamines, the two-hour debate revolved almost entirely around marijuana.
“This is a marijuana bill,” Republican Rep. Chad Christensen said. “Let’s call it what it is.”
Christensen, who voted against the measure, said the real problem in the state was opioid use, and that’s where a crackdown was needed.
Had the legislation passed and also been approved by voters, it would have prevented ballot initiatives to legalize pot.
Republican Rep. Julianne Young said that was a primary reason for the measure.
“The initiative process is particularly ill-suited for issues that are very complex and that need to be dealt with carefully,” she said. “A policy that needs to be very carefully crafted and narrowly tailored is not the kind of policy that we want to have implemented through an initiative process.”
Republican Rep. Mike Kingsley voted against the measure.
“The people of Idaho overwhelmingly would like medical marijuana,” he said. “Idaho is the last state to just hold out and not give people medicine that they need for cancer, for nausea. There are so many things that medical marijuana works well for, especially people that have bowel issues and bowel cancers because opiates are very constipating.”
Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon also cited the medical benefits of CBD oil, which has a small amount of THC and, in Idaho, could lead to a felony charge for those using it.
“If it helps people, then why don’t we allow it, because it sure as heck cannot get them high,” she said.
Democratic House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel said lawmakers typically update what drugs can be used in the state as they are approved by federal officials. She said lawmakers have never met the two-thirds majority in approving those drugs.
“Who knows how many essential medications we are going to be denying to the people of Idaho by setting this unrealistically high threshold that we have never successfully met before,” she said.
Republican Rep. Brent Crane spoke in favor of the measure, saying legalizing medical marijuana would be followed by recreational marijuana and then worse.
“It’s coming to Idaho unless this body draws a very clear line in the sand that we fundamentally disagree and do not want in Idaho recreational marijuana,” he said.
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