This past weekend was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I got myself ordained in the Universal Life Church as a minister to officiate their vow renewal ceremony. I even purchased the black, long-sleeved priest shirt with the white square collar and a long ceremonial stole. One of my cousins called me “The Most High Reverend ‘Radical’ Russ.”
Ironically, it was the least high I had been in a while, for I was deep in the heart of Idaho.
I had driven up from Oakland, CA, where I had just covered the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Business Summit, to my folks’ place in Nampa, ID (motto: the sugar beet factory’s smell means you’re home). The combination of rental car, Oregon plates, traversing Nevada and a suspicious encounter with law enforcement on my last trip meant I was weed-free coming into Idaho.
Idaho is a fascinating place. It has the second greatest concentration of Mormons after Utah, the third least concentration of black people after Montana and Vermont, and the fourth-most Republican-dominated state legislature after South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
But when it comes to marijuana, Idaho lays claim to an ignominious first. In 2013, the Idaho State Senate had voted 29-5 on a resolution that marijuana shall never, ever be legalized for any purpose whatsoever, but by 2015, neighboring Utah and Wyoming had passed compassionate measures to help sick kids. That same senate passed a CBD-only bill similar to over a dozen states’ laws to help epileptic children, only to have Gov. Butch Otter become the first to veto such a measure.
So there I was, dressed in priestly garb, sober as can be, with all my older aunts, uncles, and cousins. (It’s a good thing, too, since Idaho is one of three states with a law making it a crime to merely be high in a public place.) That’s when one of my older female relatives, nearly 70, approached me and started asking me about cannabis salve.
“My son brought me some of this when he came back from Colorado,” she explained to me. “I’ve been using it on my shoulder and it’s helped my arthritis to the point where I can finally sleep at night.”
I relayed to her my story of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who admitted to that very same use of cannabis medicine. She was elated and then asked me, “So, where would I get some more of it; I’m almost out.”
She was so blissfully ignorant of the fact that her arthritis salve is considered serious contraband in Idaho. “I’m sorry,” I explained, “if you want more of that you’re going to have to drive to either Bend or The Dalles,” referring to two Oregon cities at least a four-hour drive from Nampa, ID.
“What? I thought marijuana was legal in Oregon?” she replied.
“Well, it is, but the counties in eastern Oregon rebelled against the legalization and demanded that they have the right to ban it. So they all did. You can’t get recreational marijuana in the eastern two-thirds of Oregon. You can only get medical marijuana.”
“OK, so what do I have to do to get medical marijuana?” she wondered.
“You can’t. Oregon used to be the only state where out-of-state residents could get a medical marijuana card,” I told her. “But the legislature eliminated that provision, though we think it is unconstitutional and will be overturned someday.”
“So I have to drive to The Dalles just to get some more of my arthritis balm that doesn’t get me high?”
“Now you’re getting it. And don’t forget, when you cross into Idaho, that quarter ounce of balm is just as illegal as if you were carrying a quarter ounce of weed.”
She was clearly perturbed. “I just can’t see why they would make something like this illegal,” she vented.
“Because they hate people like me smoking pot,” I replied.
At that moment, I think it finally clicked for her. She’s a church-going lady who hadn’t ever given much thought to drug prohibition. Like many, she had begrudgingly supported medical marijuana, but only in the frame of “well, if somebody is suffering, we can look the other way if they get high”.
But now that cannabis has eased her pain, she understands the tragedy of prohibition. Her arthritis isn’t terribly debilitating. She can get by on traditional over-the-counter pain killers. But she’d grown weary of the side effects from those pills and never really found the kid of relief cannabis gave her. She won’t die without medical marijuana, but she is seriously inconvenienced.
“This is stupid,” she blurted out. “What do we need to do to get medical marijuana legal in this state?”
Now she’s hooked on marijuana… reform. This is the kind of lady who gets very involved in the voting process. She’s the kind who will go visit state legislators and give them a piece of her mind. I turned her on to New Approach Idaho and their campaign to end adult prohibition in the Gem State.
This is how you legalize marijuana, one mind at a time. Get your grandma some cannabis salve. Every senior who supports marijuana law reform is worth 20 millennials.