Idaho Senate Passes Constitutional Ban On Legal Marijuana

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medical bottle spilt over with cannabis buds over a prescription

The Idaho Senate approved a measure on Wednesday that would amend the state’s constitution to prevent the legalization of marijuana and other drugs not approved by the federal government. The proposed constitutional amendment was approved in the GOP-led Senate with a vote of 24 to 11, just one vote more than the two-thirds majority required to advance the measure.

If the constitutional amendment succeeds, it would prohibit the legalization of marijuana or any other psychoactive drug not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The measure (Senate Joint Resolution 101) was proposed in response to the wave of cannabis legalization measures that continues to spread across the United States.

“Senators, we have a duty to protect our children, our families, our communities from the scourge of drugs and the drug culture which we have seen go clear across this nation,” said Republican Sen. Scott Grow, the sponsor of the legislation, at the beginning of Wednesday’s debate in the Senate. He characterized Idaho as the “last foxhole” surrounded by neighbors with some form of legalized marijuana.

“Let Idahoans choose whether they want to live in a drug-free state – free from drug culture – or not,” Grow added.

Debate on the proposed amendment became emotional at times. Republican Sen. Van Burtenshaw reportedly choked up for half a minute as he beseeched his fellow lawmakers to approve the proposal.

“Good senators, I beg you: we have to keep this state clean,” he implored.

Democratic Senators Reject Measure

The amendment would prohibit legalization of unapproved psychoactive drugs for any purpose, including medical uses. All seven of the state’s Democratic senators voted against the amendment. Democratic Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking cited the desire to keep the potential legalization of medical cannabis on the table in Idaho.

“I do not want to take even a small ray of hope or a small amount of relief away from anyone,” she said.

“Having lost three close family members in less than four years, I know what writhing in pain looks like,” Ward-Engelking said. “And I know when pain becomes too intense, and all hope has fallen off the cliff, people seek a small amount of relief and a single ray of hope. And I believe medical cannabis is a humanitarian issue, not a substance abuse issue.”

Serra Frank, a medical marijuana activist and the director of Legalize Idaho, is a leader in the effort to qualify a medicinal cannabis legalization initiative for the state ballot and a petition drive against Grow’s amendment. She said in an email that it is important to preserve the option of legalizing medical marijuana for the thousands of suffering people who “could benefit from this amazing medicine.”

“Idaho is completely surrounded by some sort of reform of cannabis, and our little island of prohibition is the last state in the nation to have compassion for our citizens,” writes Frank. “Our neighbors deserve better. Our children deserve better. Idaho is better than that. If this amendment passes, it would prevent us from providing this compassion to anyone in Idaho, now and in the future - to the detriment of our future generations.”

With the approval of the constitutional amendment in the Senate, the measure will next be considered by the Idaho House of Representatives, where Republicans also hold a strong majority. If the measure receives the two-thirds majority support it needs in the House, the amendment will be placed on the 2022 ballot, with a simple majority of voters needed for approval.

The move by Republican Senators in Idaho continues the efforts by GOP leaders to thwart marijuana legalization via the ballot box. Cannabis reform initiatives that succeeded in two states in November’s election are being challenged by prominent Republicans, including South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

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