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Is Idaho Inching Closer to Some Form of Marijuana Legalization?


The states bordering Idaho have legalized some form of marijuana and Idaho lawmakers understand that access to marijuana will soon be just a short drive from Twin Falls, but some pro-marijuana moves are happening.

Possession of more than 3-ounces is a felony, according to Governor Otter vetoed a 2015 bill to make access to CBD oil easier. Instead, he created a state-controlled experiment to treat only children with severe seizure disorders with CBD oil.

The Department of Health and Welfare will asking lawmakers to extend the experiment for an additional year and have asked for $26,800 in funding for extension of the experiment and necessary testing.

Previous measures to legalize any form of marijuana have failed in the past. There have been three attempts in the last year for medical marijuana, but enough signatures couldn’t be gathered. Several bipartisan lawmakers support decriminalization or at least relaxing penalties.

There is also bipartisan support for legalized medical marijuana.

Assistant House Majority Leader Brent Crane said, “Recreational marijuana, the sentiment has not changed whatsoever.”

Crane also said, “For cannabidiol oil, I think that program is working well. If you were to take a vote on cannabidiol oil, I think it would probably pass. Medical marijuana, I don’t know, but recreational, absolutely not. The states that have expanded the use to recreational marijuana have seen significant issues with respect to the enforcement of it. Fatalities are up. The societal cost has been significant.”

Legislation for the new 2018 session is in progress and aims to reduce penalties for possession. If the effort passes, it would no longer be a misdemeanor or felony charge, just a simple infraction – similar to a traffic ticket.

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding voiced concerns regarding marijuana possession convictions preventing young adults from getting federal aid and student loans.

Erpelding said, “The last thing I want to do is have somebody who makes a mistake and goes across the state line and gets pinched and loses access to student loans. I believe that as long as Idaho has marijuana illegal and does not legalize it, it should be an infraction. It should not be so detrimental as to ruin somebody’s college career.”

With Governor Otter still in office, efforts may be harder than expected, even with increasing support from conservative Republicans. Erpelding hopes to see larger conversations regarding marijuana laws taking place. He does, however, understand that the Legislature’s position hasn’t changed much in the last 4 years. Most of the Legislature that was in place in 2013 opposed any type of marijuana legalization. He thinks several voted against efforts to reform Idaho’s marijuana laws is “playing to the fears of their constituents”.

He said that Idaho is, “criminalizing something that is more similar to alcohol while we ignore this opioid epidemic.”

He also said, “There are a lot of us that support finding a way to effectively utilize marijuana as a medicine and Idaho should be learning from the other states and moving in a direction that helps people stay off of opioids, because marijuana has a similar effect, but it doesn’t have all of the downsides.”

To get marijuana legalization or decriminalization efforts on ballots, just over 56,000 valid signatures need to be collected. Those signatures must also come from 6-percent of voters in 18 of the 35 legislative districts in the state. It’s a tough task, but several have confidence that the required signatures can be obtained.

In Otter’s early political career, he commented on supporting marijuana legalization. Since taking office, he’s been strongly against legalization.

The trouble for Idaho is that their leading gubernatorial candidates for the 2019 election are all against smokeable forms of marijuana for any purpose, recreational or medical.

Two lawmakers, Tommy Ahlquist and Raul Labrador support CBD oil for medical use. Labrador co-sponsored a bill to allow the use of CBD oil in states where it is allowed.

Labrador said, “I’m all for using extract. I don’t understand why the governor vetoed that bill.”

While legalization of any kind may seem far-fetched, there is support for marijuana law reform in Idaho. That is, at least, one step in a forward direction.

The lieutenant governor, Brad Little, does support the Epidiolex experiment.