It is an election year and medical marijuana has made it into the political playing field. A group in Idaho wants it legal here and a bill is already before the legislature. I talked to both sides of this controversial issue.
"As a physician, I can tell you there have been people dying with cancer. They can't hold their food down and they're taking chemotherapy and they get benefit, but we shouldn't be afraid of people making their own choices," said Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Medical marijuana is already legal in 16 states and Washington, D.C. Legislation is currently pending in 16 other states, as of the end of January. As for Idaho, House Bill 370 stems from Republican Representative Tom Trail in District 6, out of Moscow. He sponsored the Idaho Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act to establish a system for patients to legally obtain and use marijuana.
Should the bill die in the legislature, the Boise-based group Compassionate Idaho is already collecting signatures to get the initiative on the November 2012 ballot. They need the required 47,500 signatures. They're shooting for 50,000. Lindsey Rinehart is the head volunteer coordinator. We caught up with her in Boise.
"The state of Idaho has a lot of sick people and patients that have seriously ill and terminally ill conditions and we need to protect those patients from being arrested and from forfeiture," said Rinehart.
This crusade is personal for Lindsey, she has multiple sclerosis.
"I started to learn about all the other people in this state that need it just as bad as I do that have seriously ill conditions or people that are dying," said Rinehart
Does she think voters will go for it, even if the legislature does not?
"BSU did a public policy poll and it showed that 74 percent of Idahoans support medical marijuana. We have a lot of compassionate people here, when you are talking about a population that is sick, Idaho people respond to that because we're compassionate people," she said.
Dr. Christian Shull is an oncologist with Snake River Cancer Center. Social aside, politics aside, purely from his professional standpoint as a doctor, what does marijuana do medically?
"The chemically-active ingredient in marijuana thc primarily has three effects that we look for in cancer patients. One would be the effect that it has on their appetite. The second effect we look for it that it is quite an antiemetic which means that it works to help control nausea quite well. And then the third effect that we get with marijuana is that it can give you a sense of well-being, kind of gives them a calming sensation that patients who are facing very difficult illness can really benefit from," said Shull.
We have seen the side that's for it. We know what it does medically. Now the opposition.
"This medical marijuana ruse. This is a ruse, all right. All this is is you got a headache or you got a backache, give me all the pot I can smoke. Everybody knows what this is," said Bill O'Reilly as a guest on Fox and Friends.
"This isn't about cures. This is business. This is about money," said Captain Mark Cowley. He is with the Bingham County Sheriff's Office and also works with the Bingham County Youth Coalition. He is concerned what this will mean for kids.
"It's not a bad drug, it's medicine? And that's wrong. That's the wrong message to send to kids. And if people are entitled to smoke this and then do their jobs, do you really want the bus driver that is hauling your kids to school that has a medical marijuana card that says I smoked dope four hours earlier? Do you want your kids on that bus?" questioned Cowley.
There is also the issue of planning and zoning.
"If it's medical marijuana, there are dispensaries. You could legitimately put it next to a school or a church. Where in your community do you want these medical marijuana dispensaries that are selling pot?
Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter recently commented about medical marijuana being introduced by Rep. Tom Trail into the Idaho Legislature.
"I told Tom I would not look with favor on that bill. I just think it is dead wrong."
Of course, we will continue to follow the legislature and if this initiative possibly makes in on the ballot come November.