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Idaho Senate Passes Anti-Marijuana Constitutional Amendment By 1 Vote

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Sen. Scott Grow (R-Eagle), shown here in this file photo, is sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would make it impossible for voters to pass a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Idaho.

A constitutional amendment to reinforce that psychoactive drugs, like marijuana, are illegal in Idaho barely passed the state Senate by one vote Wednesday.

The proposal from Sen. Scott Grow (R-Eagle) would make it impossible for citizens to legalize medical or recreational marijuana – or any other psychoactive drugs not approved for use by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

During debate, Grow referred to Idaho as the “last foxhole” in the region that doesn’t have some form of legalized marijuana.

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

Idaho is one of 14 states in the country where medical marijuana isn’t legal. It’s also one of just three states in the U.S. that outlaws products, like CBD oil, with trace amounts of THC, the plant’s main psychoactive compound. No amount of THC is legal here.

Grow also called tax revenue from marijuana sales in neighboring states “insignificant,” even though it amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars a year in some cases.

At times, it was an extremely emotional debate. Republican Sen. Van Burtenshaw (R-Terreton) choked up for 30 seconds at one point urging his colleagues to support the measure.

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

The proposed amendment would retain Idaho’s “right to try” law, which allows doctors to prescribe terminally ill patients experimental drugs.

But testimony from an oncologist last week and Jeremy Kitzhaber, a retired Air Force veteran with terminal stage 4 cancer, explained that law doesn’t apply to patients who could be treated with medical marijuana.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking (D-Boise) voted against the proposed amendment, saying she views medical marijuana as a humanitarian issue.

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

Regardless of why someone uses marijuana, Sen. Lee Heider (R-Twin Falls) said it shouldn’t be legal in this state.

“I know there are those who complain about having to go to Oregon or Washington to buy their drugs and that’s unfortunate,” Heider said.

“They’ll continue to have to do that, but in Idaho, we believe in doing what’s right.”

Some Republicans opposed the measure, saying they’re worried that it would make Idaho’s constitution too complicated for technical reasons.

It still needs two-thirds approval in the Idaho House. After that, it would go before voters in the 2022 election where it would only need a simple majority to take effect.

A citizens’ initiative is underway right now to legalize medical marijuana in the state. Previous efforts to get the issue on the ballot have failed.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers are also expected to soon unveil a bill that would legalize medical marijuana.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!