Idaho marijuana activists have been cleared to begin signature gathering for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state.
Kind Idaho, the campaign behind the measure, announced on Monday that it had received the official petition from the secretary of state’s office.
But this development also comes amid legislative complications, with lawmakers advancing a resolution to change the state Constitution in a way that would prevent Idaho from enacting legalization through this or a separate proposed recreational marijuana measure that activists also want to put on the midterm ballot.
Another wrinkle in activists’ plans concerns a medical cannabis bill that was recently introduced in a House committee. The legislation, sponsored by a bipartisan duo of representatives, is expected to be seriously restrictive, and its passage could undermine the ballot campaign, giving voters the impression that the state already has an effective cannabis program for patients.
In any case, Kind Idaho is moving ahead and feels it has the time necessary to gather enough valid signatures to make the ballot next year. Activists attempted to get an identical version of the initiative on the 2020 ballot, but they suspended the campaign amid complications resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and were not able to get approval for electronic petitioning that they said would have allowed them to qualify.
The campaign now has until May 1, 2022 to collect about 65,000 valid signatures to make the ballot this time around.
Under the proposal, qualifying patients would be able to purchase and possess up to four ounces of marijuana. Those with a “hardship designation” could also cultivate up to six plants.
The initiative lists twelve conditions that would make a patient eligible for medical cannabis, but it also extends to any terminal disease or severe chronic illness. The state health department would be able to add additional conditions as it sees fit.
That would go significantly further than a newly filed bill from the House Health and Welfare Committee. That legislation—the Sgt. Kitzhaber Medical Cannabis Act, named after a military veteran with terminal cancer—would not technically legalize marijuana but instead move it to a lower control group under state statute and provide patients and caregivers with certain protections.
Patients who meet the criteria to participate in the medical cannabis program could only access the product with a prescription. And the bill would impose a two gram THC cap per month.
Watch Monday’s committee discussion and vote on introducing the medical cannabis legalization bill below:
Reps. Ilana Rubel (D) and Mike Kingsley (R), sponsors of the legislation, said in an op-ed that they “agree that Idahoans should not become criminals for seeking safer, better treatment.”
“Thirty-six states have legalized medical cannabis, and 22 of these have not progressed to recreational marijuana,” they wrote. “Many of these are red states, like Ohio, Utah, Oklahoma and Missouri, that have found a way to get sick people the treatment they need without unsavory pot dispensaries popping up or kids getting access to marijuana.”
— Ilana Rubel (@IlanaRubel) February 1, 2021
While advocates oppose the restrictive nature of the legislation, perhaps more troubling is what would happen if the legislature approves a separate resolution that already passed in the Senate and has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee.
If the House approves the measure, it would place a proposed constitutional amendment before voters in 2022 that would prevent the state from legalizing cannabis, as well as any other controlled substance. And even if the activist-led reform initiative also made the ballot, the constitutional proposal would take precedence, regardless of the margin that any measure ultimately gets approved by.
Having the resolution approve for the ballot would be “a very dire threat to any attempt to get medical marijuana on the ballot in the state of Idaho,” Russ Belville, spokesperson for the advocacy group Idaho Citizens Coalition, told Marijuana Moment. “If the constitutional prohibition wins, it outranks anything we do with the medical, so having it defeated before it makes the ballot is of prime importance to us.”
The resolution states 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 that are 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.
A separate measure to put adult-use legalization on the ballot that’s being led by another team of activists would also be nullified if voters approved the constitutional initiative.
Belville pointed out that the same Idaho Senate that approved the prohibition resolution also recently passed legislation that removes the cannabis-derived medication Epidiolex from the state’s list of Schedule V drugs, excluding it from the definition of marijuana under state statute.
“Apparently, when you take CBD out of the plant, put it into a bar-coded product that costs $32,500 a year, it’s medical. But if you leave it in the plant that someone can grow themselves, it’s somehow dangerous,” he said.