Idaho Cannabis Advocates Launch Legalization Efforts in ‘The Most Hostile State’ Toward Policy Reform
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Idaho Cannabis Advocates Launch Legalization Efforts in ‘The Most Hostile State’ Toward Policy Reform

The Idaho Citizens Coalition for Cannabis and Kind Idaho are working to place medical and decriminalization measures on the state’s 2022 ballot, despite opposition from lawmakers and challenging regulations.

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August 5, 2021

Idaho cannabis advocates are working to place medical and decriminalization measures on the 2022 ballot in what Russ Belville, spokesperson for the Idaho Citizens Coalition for Cannabis, calls “the most hostile state” toward policy reform.

Belville’s organization is in the process of collecting the 64,946 signatures required to place the Personal Adult Marijuana Decriminalization Act of 2022 (PAMDA) on Idaho’s 2022 ballot. The initiative aims to end arrests for the personal possession of 3 ounces of cannabis or less in private by adults 21 and older.

PAMDA would not create a commercial adult-use cannabis industry in the state and maintains the criminality of cannabis possession, use and sales in public, as well as all cannabis cultivation and driving under the influence.

The Idaho Citizens Coalition for Cannabis has partnered with Kind Idaho, which is also working to collect 64,946 signatures to place the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act for 2022 (IMMA) on next year’s ballot.

IMMA would legalize the possession of up to 4 ounces of cannabis for medical purposes, as well as the home cultivation of up to six plants for patients with a “hardship waiver.” The measure would also create a system of dispensaries to sell medical cannabis to qualified patients.

Belville and other advocates operated under the Idaho Cannabis Coalition in the past to place a medical cannabis legalization measure that was identical to IMMA on Idaho’s 2020 ballot, but their efforts stalled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We collected about 40,000 signatures, and then the coronavirus came, and we had lockdowns and couldn’t collect any more, and we lost our request to be able to continue with electronic signature gathering,” Belville told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.

Now, the organizers behind IMMA and PAMDA have until May 1, 2022, to gather enough signatures to get their measures before voters in the November election.

‘The Most Anti-Marijuana Legislature in America’

Idaho is the only U.S. state that has not enacted regulations on the use of cannabis for any purpose, including the use of hemp-derived CBD.

“In 2013, we had the Legislature pass a resolution that says marijuana should never be legalized in the state for any purpose,” Belville said. “They’ve put it on paper that they’re the most anti-marijuana legislature in America.”

This opposition is also reflected in the state’s law enforcement. In early 2019, Idaho State Police arrested Denis Palamarchuk outside Boise. They charged him with felony drug trafficking after a traffic stop revealed he was carrying 6,700 lbs. of cannabis plant material. Palamarchuk claimed he was transporting hemp from one licensed company to another, and after serving jail time, he settled his case with the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office in September 2019 by pleading guilty to misdemeanors.

At the time, Idaho law prohibited any biomass that contained even trace amounts of THC, but this policy shifted in late 2019 when Gov. Brad Little issued an executive order that temporarily legalized the interstate transportation of hemp until the Legislature enacts a more permanent solution.

Belville said the campaigns behind IMMA and PAMDA are up against not only this kind of opposition from lawmakers and law enforcement, but also a handful of challenging state regulations regarding initiative petitions.

For example, during the 2020 legislative session, lawmakers added a single-subject rule to the initiative process, the likes of which caused the Nebraska Supreme Court to strike down a medical cannabis legalization measure in that state last year.

The Legislature also approved a process that allows people to take their names off an initiative after signing a petition by submitting a written request to the county clerk.

Belville said lawmakers continued tweaking the initiative process during this year’s session.

“We submitted [IMMA] in February,” he said. “The Legislature gets into session late March/early April, and they begin an assault on our ability to put any marijuana initiative on the ballot.”

The first move in this assault was the Legislature’s proposed constitutional amendment to put Idaho’s drug scheduling into the state constitution.

“The reason they wanted to do that is because in Idaho, we can only do statutory initiatives,” Belville said. “The people cannot propose constitutional amendments. So, if the drug schedules are all in the constitution, that would make it impossible to ever run a marijuana initiative or a legalization initiative for even things like medicinal psilocybin or other drugs.”

Lawmakers had the two-thirds support needed in the Senate to place the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot but failed to garner the necessary votes in the House.

A second iteration of a constitutional ban on cannabis also stalled in the House this year.

While these attempts to block cannabis-related ballot initiatives failed, the Legislature did manage to pass S.B. 1110 during its last legislative session, which changes the signature-gathering requirements to get a measure before voters.

Under the state’s previous law, which went into effect in 2013, campaigns had to collect signatures from 6% of the registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. Now, under S.B. 1110, campaigns must gather signatures from 6% of registered voters in all 35 districts to qualify their initiatives for the ballot.

IMMA was submitted before S.B. 1110 went into law, so Kind Idaho can still qualify the initiative with signatures from 18 of the state’s districts.

PAMDA, however, was submitted after the passage of S.B. 1110, and so the Idaho Citizens Coalition for Cannabis must gather signatures from all 35 districts.

“Most observers say [this] is probably impossible to pull off without a serious, serious infusion of money,” Belville said. “Reclaim Idaho, [the campaign behind a ballot initiative for Medicaid expansion,] had sued over S.B. 1110, and the Idaho Supreme Court has already heard those lawsuits, and we’re still just waiting for a decision. Should the decision go in Reclaim’s favor, and the law returns with the 18-district threshold, then we’ll be moving forward with our PAMDA initiative. If it doesn’t go in our favor and we’re stuck with 35 districts, we’ll probably fold the PAMDA initiative and put all our efforts into the IMMA medical initiative.”

Another bill, S.B. 1150, also threatened to wreak havoc on the campaigns’ signature-gathering efforts but was ultimately vetoed by the governor.

S.B. 1150 sought to prohibit campaigns from gathering signatures for an initiative outside of the state of Idaho, which Belville suspects stems from Idahoans crossing the border into Ontario, Ore., where they can legally purchase cannabis now that Ontario has overturned a ban on adult-use sales.

RELATED: The Border-Town Effect: Dispensaries Boom on State Line

“[Lawmakers] wanted to stop medical marijuana petitioners from setting up at those dispensaries right across the border and collecting signatures from the hundreds of Idahoans who go there every day,” Belville said, adding that the governor vetoed the bill out of concern for the state’s soldiers and missionaries who are stationed outside of Idaho and therefore would be unable to sign initiative petitions under the new law.

“Idaho is the most hostile state to any sort of marijuana reform, at least as evidenced by the Legislature,” Belville said. “I’d spent 14 years in Portland, Ore., … [working] for Oregon NORML, so I’ve been used to doing marijuana policy in state legislatures, but Idaho is a whole different world. It’s hard to even get volunteers to show up for events because of the fear of being known to support this issue.”

The Fight for Change

Despite the fierce opposition to cannabis policy reform, Kind Idaho is leading the all-volunteer signature- gathering effort, with continued support from the Idaho Citizens Coalition for Cannabis, to bring their initiatives before voters.

The Idaho Citizens Coalition for Cannabis has a merchandise shop on its website to raise funds for the cause and will host fundraising events this fall.

“We’re hoping to collect enough signatures to attract the national funders,” Belville said. “We also feel that if the Reclaim Idaho suit fails, there might be a silver lining in that, where we can turn to the national fundraisers and say, ‘Hey, this is your last chance. There won’t be another 18-district chance, so this is your last chance.’”

Although the Idaho Citizens Coalition for Cannabis has not yet polled on its decriminalization measure, Belville is optimistic that it could pass in a narrow majority should it make it to the ballot, and he said the medical cannabis legalization measure is a “slam dunk.”

“We polled on this one consistently, and our polls show that about three-quarters of Idahoans polled support our medical marijuana initiative specifically, and that polling support also includes over 60% among Republicans, people over 65 and members of the Mormon Church. Literally, the only demographic in Idaho that opposes medical marijuana is in the statehouse."