Community effort to legalize medicinal cannabis confident in uphill battle

Community effort to legalize medicinal cannabis confident in uphill battle

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Activists across Idaho are working together to legalize medicinal cannabis in the state. 

The Idaho Cannabis Coalition filed the initiative on June 29 to the Idaho Secretary of State. The attorney general's office has about a month to review the initiative before activists can begin gathering signatures.

This isn't the first time people have tried to legalize cannabis in Idaho. Russ Belville, a spokesman for the coalition, says this time it's different.

"The problem has always been getting the money necessary to do a professional signature gathering campaign," Belville said. "That is what is different this year, is that we do have a large amount of support to help get this on the ballot."

The amount of donations and who the donors are will be released once the campaign is in full swing and the campaign finance documents have been filed. 

Can it pass?

The group will have until the end of April 2020 to gather 55,057 signatures in order to get the initiative on the 2020 ballot. Those signatures need to come from 18 of the 35 legislative districts in Idaho, meaning the initiative must be backed by people from all across Idaho.

"Polls nationwide and polls that we've commissioned in Idaho found that not only is a super majority, that is, you know, over 70 percent of Idahoans are ready to pass a medical marijuana law, but even when we break that down by Republicans or break that down by rural areas, the support is still above 50 percent," Belville says. 

While polls show that 6 in 10 Americans support legalizing marijuana, there are groups in Idaho trying to stop it from happening here.

If the initiative gets on the ballot, and a majority of people vote 'yes,' the governor could still veto the bill.

How would medicinal marijuana be implemented?

Medical conditions that would apply include cancer, HIV/AIDS, pain spasms, seizures, nausea, PTSD, hospice conditions and others. Patients would be evaluated by a practicing medical doctor who would write an evaluation in order to get a registered medical card from the state.

"This is definitely not California where someone's walking into a shack at Venice Beach and saying they have a hang nail," Belville said. 

Patients who would qualify for medicinal marijuana would be allowed to possess up to four ounces of cannabis. In Oregon, medicinal users can have up to 24 ounces (0.91 kg).

Only people who have a "hardship" would qualify to grow up to six of their own plants, meaning people who are unable to go to a dispensary or who can't afford dispensary prices would qualify. 

If passed, the initiative would establish a system to regulate the production and sale of medical marijuana, including where and to whom it can be sold. No dispensaries would be allowed near schools, parks, churches and residential areas.

This initiative is different from other states' medicinal marijuana laws, in that it protects users from discrimination in employment, housing and education.

"We protect patients who are using medical marijuana from being discriminated against, from being kicked off organ transplant lists, from being fired just for being a medical marijuana patient," Belville said. 

It would also protect parents from losing custody of their children and protect gun owners from losing their concealed carry permits or their firearms. 

Why are people supporting it?

David Lybolt is part of Pocatello's chapter of Legalize Idaho, a community effort to educate and communicate with the public about the legalization of medical marijuana. He says he got involved because he saw too many people suffering from Idaho's opioid problem.

In May 2019, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that for every 100 people in Idaho, doctors prescribed 70.3 opioid prescriptions. The national average is 58.7 for every 100 persons. 

"I'm not saying it's a cure all for everything. I'm not saying that marijuana cures everything. But it can help and I believe that people should have a choice to a natural plant," Lybolt said. 

Belville says it's because of states who have already legalized medical marijuana that the timing is right for Idaho.

"This is a time when the people of Idaho could actually accept it and be ready for it and see that after 20 years of these states having medical marijuana that it's not like the sky has fallen," Belville said. "All that's happened is many people who are sick and disabled and could use a non-toxic healing herb are finally able to do so without being arrested or prosecuted for it."

Legalize Idaho hosts monthly meetings on the first Saturday of every month at O.K. Ward Park, where people are invited to come learn and have open dialogue about cannabis and the medicinal uses of the plant.

"There's no membership, it's not an organization, it's not a group, it's a community effort," Lybolt said.

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