A proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent the legalization of marijuana in Idaho moved forward Friday as lawmakers in the conservative state try to halt the increasing acceptance of the drug nationwide.
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted to send the joint resolution that bans all psychoactive drugs not already legal in Idaho to the full Senate. That list would change for drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
But the target over the two days of testimony on Monday and Friday was primarily marijuana as Idaho finds itself surrounded by states that have legalized pot.
Washington, Oregon, Montana and Nevada have legalized recreational and medical marijuana, while Utah allows medical marijuana. Wyoming allows CBD products containing less than .3% of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.
CBD products can be purchased in Idaho, but they must contain no THC.
Backers said the Idaho Constitution needs to be changed because neighbouring states, heavily influenced by out-of-state money, have approved marijuana use through voter initiatives, and it could happen in Idaho.
“When drugs are legalized that are currently illegal, it increases health care costs and crime,” said the resolution’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Scott Grow, condemning both recreational and medical marijuana use. “This is about money. It’s not about caring for people who might have pain or sickness.”
Those opposed said medical marijuana is needed for Idaho residents suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses. Dan Zuckerman, medical director of St. Luke’s Cancer Institute, said dealing with over a thousand cancer patients over more than a decade convinced him of the efficacy of medical marijuana in helping with pain and nausea.
“I’ve seen it myself with my own eyes,” he said. “The data is clear that patients benefit from this.”
Sen. Michelle Stennett, a Democrat from Ketchum, also noted that the amendment would prohibit doctors from providing terminally ill patients access to experimental or investigational drugs that are normally illegal but can still be prescribed in certain circumstances when other treatments have failed.
“Passing this would prohibit Idaho doctors and patients from making medical choices,” by banning new medical breakthroughs, Stennett said. “This is a direct impact on the ability of Idahoans to do good medical health care.”
Some lawmakers questioned whether the constitutional amendment could interfere with the legalization of industrial hemp, a potentially lucrative crop for farmers who have seen attempts to legalize the crop fail in recent years.
Opponents also questioned whether the amendment would ban CBD oil containing small amounts of THC.
Both products are illegal in Idaho, but are legal federally as well as in most states.
Grow said there is additional legislation planned to legalize industrial hemp that he expects will pass this year.
The joint resolution would have to pass the Senate with a two-thirds majority. It would then go to the House, where it would also need a two-thirds majority. It would next go before voters in the November 2022 general election, requiring a simple majority to pass.
Thirty-six states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have approved comprehensive, publicly available medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Fifteen states and three territories have legalized recreational marijuana.
Keith Graves told the committee he was a member of a group of retired police officers in Idaho who left California, Washington and Oregon. He said those states went downhill with crime and other problems after legalizing marijuana.
“We’re from your future,” he told the committee. “This is the last fox hole. There’s nowhere else to go.”
Bill Esbensen is part of the Idaho Citizens Coalition working on an initiative to legalize medical marijuana that it hopes to put before voters. He said the constitutional amendment would prohibit legalizing medical marijuana through an initiative, even though he said most people in the state want medical marijuana approved.
“You guys are so afraid of marijuana, you’re willing to blow up the state constitution,” he told lawmakers.
The committee advanced the resolution on a voice vote, and did not record how individual members voted.
Keith Ridler, The Associated Press