Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative 2016: Where State Stands on Legalizing Weed

Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative 2016: Where State Stands on Legalizing Weed

More than half Idaho residents are against the legalization of marijuana, according to a poll conducted by Idaho Politics Weekly. A group of 605 were surveyed by pollsters Dan Jones and Associations in January showed that 53% were strongly opposed, in contrast to 17% that strongly supported and the 16% that somewhat supported. 

However, there was no delineation between recreational and medical; in a more specific and state-wide poll conducted by Boise State University in 2011, an overwhelming 74% of Idaho residents were in favor of legalizing medical marijuana for the "terminally and seriously ill patients to use and purchase marijuana for medical purposes." Though Idaho, in comparison to other states, requires far fewer signatures to get a motion added to a ballot, New Approach Idaho, a marijuana advocacy group established in 2014, still has to contend with the misconceptions of the policy.

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Source: Richard Lautens/Getty Images
Source: Richard Lautens/Getty Images

New Approach Idaho emerged after similar advocacy groups like Compassionate Idaho failed to get the motion of medical marijuana added to the ballots for a vote. According to Boise State Public Radio's Adam Cotterall, part of the problem was simply a lack of resources, with the group having "five active members and not much money," only to eventually lose its top two leaders to Oregon and Washington – states that had already legalized marijuana for certain groups. 

Another problem was the disorganization implied from the large gap between the perceived public support and the valid signatures conveying such sentiments; the group needed 53,751 qualified signatures, but only received 559. Kendall Jeffs, one of the leaders of Compassionate Idaho, speculated that some of the signatures she collected weren't from registered voters. Jeffs noted all the rejection from people ostensibly "afraid to sign the petition for fear of being connected to illegal drugs."

In April 2015, New Approach Idaho president, William Esbensen told Cotterall that not only do they want to see medical marijuana made available to patients, but they also want to see it decriminalized – an infraction instead of a misdemeanor or felony if you are caught with three ounces or less. As Canna Law Blog's Daniel Shortt summarizes, Idaho is particularly punitive when it comes to illegal possession of marijuana.

A person caught with less than three ounces faces a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year in prison and up to a $1,000 fine. However, possession of more than three ounces is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. Possession of paraphernalia can lead to additional misdemeanor charges. 

With more than 200 volunteers since its inception in 2014, New Approach Idaho has more resources than the Compassionate Idaho precedent. Regardless, it's still very much a numbers game; New Approach Idaho will need to get 47,623 verified signatures by April 30, and 6% of the signatures must represent more than half of the legislative districts.