There are two reasons why Russ Belville thinks Idaho has a shot at legalizing medical marijuana in 2020: Utah and Oklahoma.
In 2018, both conservative strongholds approved medical marijuana laws.
"We are very confident that if it makes it on the ballot, it passes," says Belville, spokesman for the Idaho Cannabis Coalition. "The difficulty is in getting it on the ballot. Idaho has some of the most arduous signature requirements. But once we get it on the ballot, we're confident it will pass."
The coalition filed a petition with the Idaho Secretary of State's Office to include a medical marijuana initiative on the 2020 ballot and expects to start collecting signatures before the end of the week, Belville says.
He says that Idahoans are ready for medical marijuana and points to a recent poll conducted by CBS that shows that 65 percent of Americans now believe marijuana should be legal — an increase in 6 percent since last year. It's a big jump since 2013, when the same poll showed less than half of Americans (45 percent) thought marijuana should be legal. The poll also shows that 56 percent of Republicans now support legalization, which could be crucial in Idaho.
Belville says he's seen the sudden shift in attitudes himself.
"One anecdote I can tell you: I graduated Nampa High School in 85. In 2005, I came back to Boise for my 20 year reunion. I told people I'm working with cannabis patients, and my high school friends from 20 years ago were very reticent," he says. "Fast forward to 2015 and I come back, and those same friends are like, 'Hey, I have friends who have an eating disorder... What can you tell me about CBD?'"
Idaho is one of only a few remaining states around the country that has remained opposed to recreational or medical marijuana — even products as tame as CBD and hemp — though cannabis activists have petitioned for ballot initiatives in the past.
Cannabis activists in Idaho were originally discouraged during this year's legislative session when Rep. C. Scott Grow (R-Eagle) proposed legislation that would have imposed severe restrictions on voter-led ballot initiatives. But even after Gov. Brad Little vetoed those restrictions, the initiative process will still be a tough fight and subject to "political shenanigans," Belville says.
"There are all sorts of ways to subvert an initiative process, and we expect every trick in the book to be used against us," Belville says.
A big part of the fight will be combating bad information, he says. Law enforcement organizations and other groups will use "junk science" to cherry pick data on homelessness or car accidents to dissuade people away from legalizing marijuana, when really it comes down to a moral argument, he says.
"I always have to bring it back to the moral issue: What are we trying to achieve by arresting people for using marijuana? Prohibition isn't achieving any of the stated goals. Why shouldn't we legalize it?" he asks. "Oklahoma has the most liberal legal medical marijuana laws. It's a more liberal law than California's, and no one thinks Oklahoma is turning into some hippie cesspool." ♦