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Idaho’s Initiative To Legalize Medical Marijuana Is Failing Despite Public Support

Adam Cotterell
Boise State Public Radio

The majority of Idahoans approve of medical marijuana, that's according to a four-year-old poll, which is the most recent available. Still, an initiative to legalize medical pot in Idaho is failing spectacularly.

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa recently briefed lawmakers on two ballot initiatives making their way through his office. One would increase the state’s minimum wage, the other would legalize medical marijuana. Each needs 53,751 signatures by April 30 to make it on the ballot.

Ysursa told lawmakers that with about 6,000 signatures gathered so far, the minimum wage initiative might have a chance. But when it comes to medical marijuana, Ysursa says just 206 qualified signatures have been collected. That's 0.4 percent of the signatures needed.

“Obviously I believe the marijuana one has a long ways to go,” Ysursa said, laughing a little. You can also hear some of the lawmakers laugh in the background.

According to the most recent poll available, Idahoans support medial pot. Seventy-four percent of Idahoans in a 2010 survey by Boise State’s Public Policy Center,  said they support allowing medical marijuana use for seriously ill patients.

“Unless a miracle happens, we aren’t getting this ballot out in front of the people in 2014,” says Kendall Jeffs with the group Compassionate Idaho. She’s one of the leaders of the push to legalize pot. She says despite a lack of miracles they’re not giving up.

They’ve been gathering signatures at events like last weekend’s 8th and Main building dedication in Boise. They've managed to add a few. Their official signature count was up to 209 as of Tuesday.

It’s a small group working on the initiative, five people Jeffs says. But they had more. Since starting the petition drive, the group has lost its top two leaders to states that have already legalized marijuana for certain groups. One moved to Oregon and one to Washington.

Jeffs candidly admits the remaining organizers don’t know what they’re doing. “In their leaving, they just kind of handed it off to maybe people that, like us you know, we’re just kind of rubes.”

She says she’s far from being a political organizer; in fact she’s a farmer. She says she started using medicinal marijuana when she lost part of her hand in a farming accident.

But she was surprised to learn they had so few signatures. Jeffs says she’s gathered more than 200 on her own.

“I think people are signing but they’re not registered voters,” she says. The secretary of state's office doesn't keep track of how many signatures were tossed out.

Jeffs says she’s also had a lot of rejection. She thinks many people who personally support medical marijuana are afraid to sign the petition for fear of being connected to illegal drugs.

Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio