Monday, April 27, 2015

In Idaho, resistance to marijuana runs deep

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 11:02 AM


In our current issue, we wrote about how New Approach Idaho, a group of pro-pot activists, is attempting to sidestep the legislature in the Gem State with an initiative that would legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize possession of the drug.

Although New Approach Idaho has a high bar to clear, it’s probably the only way the state’s pot laws will change because elected officials don’t want anything to do with marijuana.

Idaho is a conservative state to be sure. A Democrat hasn’t held the governor's office since 1995, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won 65 percent of the vote in 2012 and both houses of the legislature are dominated by the GOP. But in other states where the GOP is the prevailing party, elected officials have been a bit groovier with marijuana.

Consider this: On April 16, Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signed a medical marijuana bill passed by the Republican-dominated legislature. On the very same day, Idaho Republican Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a significantly narrower bill that would allow for the use of cannabinol oil, which contains virtually no THC, to be used to treat children and others experiencing severe seizures. Both Utah, which has a sizable Mormon population, and Alabama allow medical use of CBD oil.

State Rep. Tom Loertscher, R- Iona, says after hearing “heart-wrenching” stories from families with severely epileptic children desperate for a therapy that would stop their debilitating seizures, he sponsored a bill allowing the therapy.

Lawmakers (who almost killed the bill) and the governor heard the same stories. But they also heard from law enforcement who said they would be burdened trying to differentiate CBD oil from other marijuana byproducts and from the state Office of Drug Policy, which called the therapy “unproven.”

“They think it’s the slippery-slope argument, that it’s the gateway to legalizing it in the state,” says Loertscher, who is also dead-set against medical marijuana, of the bill’s opponents.

State Rep.Vito Barbieri, R- Dalton Gardens, voted for the bill and was disappointed to see it vetoed. He says that medical marijuana is unlikely to become a reality in the state. In 2013, the legislature passed a resolution expressing that marijuana would never become legal for any reason.

“I think that it’s just been illegal for so long,” he says. “It’s a psychotropic and most of the members of the Legislature just don’t want to go there.”

Bill Esbensen, spokesperson for New Approach Idaho, attributes resistance among lawmakers and the governor to “ignorance and bigotry.”

“Prohibition has been thrust upon us for so long and so hard that it’s harder for these older legislative people, and they are older, to believe anything good about cannabis,” he says.

This blog has been updated to reflect the accurate date of when Idaho last had a Democratic governor. 

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