Since 2012, 13 US states have legalized adult-use cannabis by way of voter-approved ballot initiatives, and several more approved medical marijuana programs via that same process. Most Americans have celebrated these cannabis reform victories, but in Idaho, the idea that voters could overturn the state's drug prohibition laws has lawmakers running scared.
This week, Republican state Senator Scott Grow introduced Senate Joint Resolution 101, a measure designed to protect the state's existing drug prohibition laws. Idaho law already prohibits cannabis, psychedelics, MDMA, and other psychoactive drugs, but this proposal would officially add these prohibitions to the state's constitution.
The Idaho Statesman reports that this resolution would add a new section to the state constitution that bans “the production, manufacture, transportation, sale, delivery, dispensing, distribution, possession, or use of a psychoactive drug,” except for drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. This proposal would not change existing state laws, but would make it much harder for voters or lawmakers to legalize weed or other drugs.
Grow argued that his proposal would prevent the “erosion” of the state's sacred prohibition laws. According to the Statesman, the senator argued that “neighboring states have legalized controlled substances to the detriment of their children, families and communities,” a conclusion that has been refuted by scientific research finding that adult-use laws do not increase teen pot use or crime, and can actually reduce alcohol and opioid use.
All of the Gem State's neighbors have legalized some form of cannabis, with the exception of Wyoming. Adult-use weed is now legal in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Montana, and medical marijuana is legal in Utah. Idaho is far less progressive than most of its neighbors, though, and continues to prohibit medical marijuana and even non-psychoactive hemp.
“It’s a ‘Hail Mary’ pass by the Idaho Legislature to stop the changes in marijuana laws they know are inevitable,” said Russ Belville, spokesperson for an advocacy group pushing for adult-use legalization in the state, to the Idaho Statesman. “It’s not just desperate legislation, it’s also flawed legislation.”
The proposal does indeed have a few serious flaws. For one, it would place references to the state's criminal code into the state constitution. These criminal codes change over time, which would eventually make the amendment invalid. State Senator Grant Burgoyne (D) said that even though he supports the spirit of the proposal, he will reluctantly oppose it due to this technical flaw.
Lawmakers may be able to correct this issue, but because the proposal would amend the constitution, it cannot pass without majority support from the state's legislators - and its voters. To become an amendment, the bill first requires two-thirds support from the state House and Senate. If the bill does pass, the measure will be placed on the state's 2022 midterm election ballot, where the state's voters would be allowed to decide its fate.
Grow and his fellow prohibitionists seem confident that a majority of Idahoans would vote to continue the war against weed indefinitely, but this conclusion is far from a given. Recent polls have found that 70 percent of all Americans are in favor of legalizing cannabis, and thousands of Idaho residents are already crossing state lines to stock up on legal weed. Last year, Oregon officials noted that legal weed sales spiked by 420 percent in towns along the Idaho border.