Idaho Prohibitionists Block Cannabis Ballot Initiative

[Canniseur: Idaho republicans want to raise the percentage of voters it takes to put an initiative on the ballot. One state Senator says there’s no corollary between the medical cannabis initiative and his bill raising the percentage of signatures needed. Really?]

Idaho remains the final state in the U.S. devoid of any medical marijuana policy, and if conservatives in the state have their say, it’ll stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Idaho cannabis crusaders were looking to the 2020 election as an opportunity to finally open a crack in the state’s prohibitionist edifice, with a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp. But now, the state’s cowboy conservatives are trying to head ’em off at the pass — that is, at the statehouse in Boise.

Legislation just introduced by Republican State Sen. C. Scott Grow would boost the number of signatures needed to get an initiative on the ballot from 6 percent of voters in 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts, to 10 percent of voters in 32 districts. The bill narrowly passed the Idaho Senate on March 22, and now moves on the lower House of Representatives.

Grow denies the move was made in response to any particular ballot effort, but the 2018 election saw approval of Proposition 2, which expands Medicaid in the state. This means the current cannabis campaign could result in a second such blow to the state’s conservative establishment.

‘Clear Tyranny’

The legislation would apply to all future ballot measures, even if the petition was filed before the bill was even introduced, as is the case with the medical marijuana effort. If the bill passes, it will retroactively raise the bar on signature-gatherers.

Idaho Cannabis Coalition spokesman Bill Esbensen told the Idaho Post Register the new law would be “clear tyranny.”

The Spokane, Washington-based weekly newspaper Inlander notes how Idaho is polarizing around the cannabis question. The state is considering legislation to legalize industrial hemp now that the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill has removed the federal stricture on it. The hemp bill passed the House on March 18, but the bill’s sponsor, Republican state representative Caroline Nilsson Troy, said she didn’t see any interest in marijuana this legislative session.

In contrast, when Idaho Moms for Marijuana kicked off 2019 with a New Year’s Day rally in front of the state capitol, activist Serra Frank told Boise’s KTVB: “The people of Idaho want it, the politicians might not, we don’t care what they say. We are the people, this is our Capitol building, we are going to make this happen.”

And when the initiative was filed with state authorities on March 8, Esbensen of the Idaho Cannabis Coalition expressed confidence. “This time we have some money behind us,” he told the Post Register. “People with voices, future stakeholders.”

But then, Grow pulled his fast one.

Regionally Out of Step

A sign of how far out of step prohibitionist Idaho is with its increasingly libertarian neighbors came in February, when a federal judge in Boise heard arguments from attorneys for a Colorado-based CBD supplier suing the state police to get back 7,000 pounds of hemp that was seized by Idaho troopers at the port of entry during an inspection.

As Boise’s IdahoNews 2 reports, Big Sky Scientific is demanding that the court order the shipment released and allow it to proceed on to the company’s plant in Aurora, Colo. The Idaho State Police are arguing that any substance containing any amount of THC s illegal under Idaho law, even if it is less than the 0.3 percent which is the threshold for industrial hemp under federal law.

Spokane’s Spokesman-Review notes Idaho’s regional isolation on the question. Nevada voted to legalize cannabis in 2016, and Utah just approved medical marijuana last November. This leaves Idaho “fully bordered by pot-friendlier states,” with the sole exception of Wyoming. But in the Gem State, possession of more than three ounces remains a felony.

It has been a long haul for the state’s cannabis advocates. Medical marijuana initiatives in 2012 and 2014 failed to win enough signatures. A poorly worded 2016 initiative was withdrawn from the ballot before signatures could be counted. Paulette Jordan, who would have been Idaho’s first Native American and first woman governor, called for reviewing the state marijuana laws in her 2018 campaign, and even broached full legalization. But she lost the race to Republican Brad Little.

Yet Idaho activists are by no means throwing in the towel. As the Inlander reports, the group Legalize Idaho is to host a meet-and-greet for cannabis advocates at 4:20 PM on April 6 at the Idaho Pizza Company in Boise. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition will also be out in force to collect signatures for the ballot effort at the fourth annual Boise Hempfest on April 20.

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