Idaho’s Anti-Cannabis Amendment Passes in Senate With a Majority of One

The future for cannabis legalization in the state of Idaho looks bleak despite overwhelming voter support.

Idaho passes anti-cannabis amendment

Summary:

  • If the amendment passes in the House, cannabis will remain illegal in the state as a result. It could also block any future legalization attempts by overriding future ballots approved by the electorate. 
  • The amendment needs a whopping two-thirds majority in the House to pass. After which it will be put to the public on a ballot in 2022.
  • Idaho is the only US state to prohibit all forms of cannabis (including CBD products) — only FDA-approved CBD is allowed for (Nebraska also prohibits all CBD with the exception of in-state regulated products).
  • Overwhelming voter support — 73% of Idaho residents showed support for medical cannabis, including a surprising 63% of Republicans and 62% of Latter-Day Saints Church members.
  • Despite Idaho’s strict cannabis prohibition, Idaho’s cannabis consumption has risen dramatically — a 55% increase in cannabis consumption since Washington and Oregon legalized it.

An anti-cannabis constitutional amendment, SJR 101, has passed the Senate vote in Idaho, with a majority of just one.

The amendment proposes that psychoactive drugs should stay illegal in the state and would block any possible public ballots that seek to legalize cannabis in the future.

Senator Scott Grow (R), who proposed the bill, described Idaho as the “last foxhole” in the Pacific Northwest, referring to the fact that all of its neighbor states have either fully legalized or liberalized cannabis to some degree.

He went on to dismiss other states’ cannabis tax revenues as “insignificant”, despite evidence that some places have yielded millions of tax dollars a year from their legalized cannabis industries.

Senator Janie Ward-Engelking (D) voted against the amendment. She stated that she “[does] not want to take away even a small ray of hope or a small amount of relief from anyone”, and views medical cannabis as a humanitarian issue.

Disappointment Among Pro-Cannabis Groups

Unsurprisingly, pro-cannabis advocate groups and organizations are disappointed with this move to stifle cannabis legalization. 

Cannabis reform group, Idaho Citizens Coalition, has reacted with alarm to the news and is urging residents to contact their local representatives in order to persuade them to appeal against the decision.  They describe Idaho’s cannabis laws as “antiquated” and say that if legislators do not take action, “we’ll do it ourselves”. 

This amendment follows a failed attempt in November 2020 to put cannabis reform measures on the state ballot. The Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative fell through due to logistical complications related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It still needs a majority of two-thirds in the House before it can be put to the public in a ballot, which is scheduled for 2022 should it be achieved. The public ballot will only need a simple majority for it to become enshrined in law.

Cannabis is Illegal But Voters Don’t Agree

Cannabis remains completely illegal in Idaho in all forms. Even hemp-derived CBD is prohibited and deemed a controlled substance, unless it carries less than 0.3% THC and is made only from the plant’s stalks.

However, statistics show most residents support medical cannabis reform. 73% of those polled by the Idaho Citizens Coalition on the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act showed support for legalizing cannabis for medical use. This includes 63% of Republicans and 62% of members of the Latter-Day Saints Church, a group of voters you wouldn’t expect to show support for any form of cannabis reform or legalization. 

Chart showing Idaho's support for medical marijuana
Source: idahocann.co

This result is very promising. Despite strict cannabis prohibition (incl. hemp-derived CBD), voters are showing enough is enough. Having Republican and church member support is an amazing step in the right direction and may cause more conservative-leaning state officials to consider the voices of conservative and religious voters. 

Idahoans smoking more marijuana than neighboring legalized states (despite prohibition)

Hilariously, Idaho residents don’t really seem to care too much about state cannabis law. The coalition found Idaho’s cannabis consumption rate increased faster than both Washington and Oregon since their respective legalization measures were put in place. Idaho saw a 55% increase, while Washington and Oregon saw a 30.3% and 48.12% increase, respectively. 

To put this in perspective, nearly 8.5% of Idaho adults use cannabis monthly, while almost 14% consume it on an annual basis. 

Additionally, 80% of residents live within a two-hour drive of a legal cannabis dispensary located in neighboring states. 

Cannabis businesses in Ontario (Malheur County), Oregon, which serves the Boise metropolitan area, found their sales almost tripled in the past one and a half years (from $2.6 million to $9.5 million). 

Why Cannabis Legalization Should Matter to Idaho

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Cannabis prohibition doesn’t work. 

The federal US government successfully banned all forms of cannabis in the late ‘30s but unsuccessfully kept it out of the hands of many. It’s the most commonly used illicit drug across the US. Approximately 22 million people use cannabis and cannabis-related products each month (likely more now that several states have relaxed their cannabis laws). Prohibition also wastes public resources, prevents lucrative tax revenue from being poured back into the economy, and disproportionately affects minority groups. 

For Senator Scott Grow (R) to come out and say cannabis tax revenue is insignificant proves anti-cannabis lawmakers and state officials ignore California, Colorado, and Oregon, all of which enjoy the extra cash being pumped back into their respective economies. 

Oregon, in fact, is using its extra cash to fund schools, police services, health authorities, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. Meanwhile, Texas, a state with strict cannabis laws, is seeking legalization to fund K-12 education

It’s clear to us that Idaho’s decision to pass this anti-cannabis amendment is short-sighted and tied up in an antiquated and outdated War on Drugs sentiment. “All drugs are bad and we don’t like it” kind of rhetoric shrouded in “we’re just looking out for the health and safety of our people”.