Republican lawmaker rolls his own medical marijuana bill, inspiring a look at Gem State cannabis policy

Despite being almost entirely surrounded by states that have legalized recreational cannabis, Idaho persists as an anti-cannabis bulwark. Last week, however, a Republican state representative submitted a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Idaho.

House Health and Welfare Committee Vice Chair John Vander Woude introduced the Idaho Medical Cannabis Act on Friday. The Nampa Republican offered the measure, House Bill 370, as a personal bill.

Could change be coming to the Gem State? Don't get too excited.

As it stands, Idaho has arguably the strictest anti-cannabis policy in the country. The federal government legalized hemp and CBD with the 2018 Farm Bill. Idaho did not legalize hemp or, by extension, CBD, until last year, the last state to do so. Even then, it banned CBD products made for pets in November 2022.

This should be no surprise. The state Legislature had, after all, passed a resolution in 2013 committing to the perpetual prohibition of cannabis in Idaho.

"The Idaho Legislature takes this opportunity to state its opposition to efforts to legalize marijuana for any purpose in the State of Idaho," reads the conclusion of Idaho Senate Concurrent Resolution 112.

In 2015, Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a bill that would have legalized cannabis oil as a treatment for children with epilepsy, despite cannabis-derived products providing relief for many who live with epilepsy.

"Of course I sympathize with the heartbreaking dilemma facing some families trying to cope with the debilitating impacts of disease," Otter wrote in a statement, after denying them the legal right to use cannabis products to cope with the debilitating impacts of that disease.

Six years later, in 2021, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have prohibited legalization of cannabis for any reason in the state was approved in the Senate, though it later died in the state House.

Now, in 2023, cannabis as medicine is once again on the table in Idaho.

Again, Idaho is not looking at broad legalization. House Bill 370 would only authorize medical marijuana for a select few conditions and would limit it to essentially pills, tablets or chewables. Smoking is off the table.

Idaho has a chance to catch up with the rest of the country, albeit only slightly, by passing this legislation. Will it? Time will tell, but history suggests they'll elect to stay in the past. ♦

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