A proposal to constitutionally ban marijuana in Idaho narrowly passed out of the state Senate on Wednesday, setting the stage for legislators in the state House to decide.
The proposed amendment to the state’s constitution passed by a vote of 24-11, barely eclipsing the two-thirds threshold necessary for such a proposal. The ban would apply to “all psychoactive drugs not already legal in the state,” according to the Associated Press.
The AP noted that supporters of the constitutional amendment were motivated to act given that prohibition on recreational pot use has been lifted in neighboring states. To the west of Idaho’s border are Washington and Oregon, where marijuana has been legal for years; to the east is Montana, where voters approved a legalization measure in November’s election.
“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,” state Sen. Scott Grow, a Republican who co-sponsored the legislation, said when debate on the proposed amendment began, as quoted by the Associated Press.
Republicans have large majorities in both of Idaho’s legislative chambers. The state’s GOP governor, Brad Little, has also made it abundantly clear that he is no fan of legalization.
If Idaho voters were expecting legal pot to come to their state, Little said months after taking office in 2019, “they elected the wrong guy as governor.”
The AP said that all seven Democratic state senators “voted against the legislation, citing the need to keep medical options open for marijuana and new and experimental drugs that could help patients,” and they were joined by “four Republicans who said they were troubled by altering the state’s constitution, or felt banning marijuana would impinge on personal freedoms.”
“Having lost three close family members in less than four years, I know what writhing in pain looks like,” state Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a Democrat, said, according to the Associated Press. “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.”
The implications on medical marijuana in the state are potentially significant, given that there is an effort in the state House to legalize the treatment there. A Republican and Democratic member of the House intend to introduce the medical cannabis measure in their chamber next week, according to the Idaho Press, which said that under the proposal marijuana “would only be available by prescription…[and] would be packaged like any other medicinal drug, and would be dispensed by pharmacies.” Edibles and joints would be a no-go, according to the Idaho Press. The Republican co-sponsor of the bill, state House Rep. Mike Kingsley, the “whole goal is to keep it from becoming recreational.”
Medical marijuana is legal in nearly 40 other states. A poll in 2019 found that more than 70 percent of Idahoans supported legalizing medical cannabis.