• March 4, 2021

Idaho Senate Blocks Voters From Approving Marijuana Legalization

 Idaho Senate Blocks Voters From Approving Marijuana Legalization

Idaho. Photo by Kevin Fitzgerald

The Idaho Senate approved a resolution to amend the state Constitution to prevent marijuana or other drugs from being legalized.

If the House follows suit, the action could create serious complications for activists seeking to put cannabis reform measures on Idaho’s 2022 ballot.

The Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee approved the resolution along party lines last week, and the full chamber has now passed it 24-11. If it gets a two-thirds majority in the House as well, it will be placed before voters on the midterm election ballot.

The measure stipulates that “the production, manufacture, transportation, sale, delivery, dispensing, distribution, possession, or use of a psychoactive drug shall not be permitted in the state of Idaho.”

It would make an exception for substances approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but it would effectively kneecap efforts to establish a medical cannabis program that looks anything like those implemented in other legal states.

What makes the measure problematic for advocates is that, should the legislature ultimately approve it, the resulting constitutional initiative on ballot would take precedence over any statutory legalization measures that appear alongside it, regardless of the margin that any measure is approved.

Activists are dealing with this development as they work to collect signatures on an initiative to legalize medical cannabis, and while a separate group is preparing to place adult-use legalization before voters.

The Senate-approved resolution says that the “normalization of illicit drug use is having a profound negative impact on Idaho citizens” and, therefore, it is “reasonable and necessary” to enact the constitutional change.

Activists say the proposal is anything but reasonable and is intended to undermine the democratic process, misleading voters by neglecting to directly explain how the measure would impact medical cannabis reform efforts and instead referring broadly to “psychoactive drugs.”

Here’s the language of the constitutional amendment that the lawmakers hope to place before voters: “Shall Article III of the Constitution of the State of Idaho be amended by the addition of a new Section 30 to provide that the production, manufacture, transportation, sale, delivery, dispensing, distribution, possession, or use of certain psychoactive drugs shall not be lawful in the State of Idaho unless such drugs are: (a) approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and permitted by the state; (b) lawfully prescribed; and (c) lawfully dispensed?”

If approved, that would mean that Kind Idaho’s medical cannabis legalization measure and another initiative in the works to legalize for recreational purposes would be rendered null and void, regardless of whether a majority of Idahoans passed either of them.

It’s not just the resolution that could derail reform efforts, either. A Republican lawmaker also plans to introduce a bill this session that advocates say would create a seriously limited medical marijuana program.

If the legislation is enacted, advocates worry that it would undermine any measures that may go before voters next year, giving the impression that the state already has an effective medical cannabis system in place and raising questions about why they would need to approve any additional reform.

As it stands, the state is already mostly surrounded by neighbors that have legalization on the books — with Montana voters approving the police change in November.

An attempt to put medical cannabis reform on Idaho’s 2020 ballot was abandoned due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Advocates briefly had hope that a federal court ruling on an unrelated campaign’s request for electronic petitioning could help them qualify last November, but that was overturned by an appeals court.

This piece is a part of a content sharing arrangement between The News Station and Marijuana Moment.

Kyle Jaeger

Associate editor at Marijuana Moment

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