Rebutting One Idaho Columnist’s Reefer Madness

bill-colley-header

One of my fans (@TrixterPhillips) turned me on to an op-ed in the Twin Falls, Idaho, Time-News newspaper website MagicValley.com entitled, “Potheads, stay out of Idaho“. The author, columnist Bill Colley, is also the host of Top Story at News Radio 1310 AM. The column is no more chock-full of reefer madness and stoner stereotypes than most, but Mr. Colley seems to be calling me out directly over my writing here at Weed News, so I thought he deserved a thorough reply.

Bill Colley wants to stress to you the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. (Photo: Drew Nash, Times-News)
Bill Colley wants to stress to you the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. (Photo: Drew Nash, Times-News)

Somehow in the last couple of weeks there appear to be some people who believe opposition of the majority has subsided in Idaho when it comes to the use of marijuana. I first noticed the change in a story I found from something known as Weed News. …

The fellow writing at Weed News explains he’s from Oregon and smokes freely there but can’t when he visits Idaho. He has a couple of choices. Stay smoke free or don’t visit. No. 1 would be simple if the drug as argued isn’t addictive, and No. 2 would benefit the good people of our state.

Mr. Colley, I may be that Weed News writer you are referring to. I was born in Nampa in 1968, graduated Nampa High in 1985, attended Boise State from 1985-89 and served in the Idaho National Guard 1985-1990.

From 1985-1990, not one Soviet musician ever threatened Idaho's freedom!
From 1985-1990, not one Soviet musician ever threatened Idaho’s freedom!

I was forced to move out of Idaho in 2003 because I had married an Idaho woman who suffers from severe migraine pain. After trying every pharmaceutical remedy she was either allergic to or impervious to, she found cannabis was the only medicine that offered her any relief. While I had been smoking pot in Idaho since 1990 without getting caught, I feared she would not be as lucky and get us both in trouble.

Thus, we left our entire extended families and moved out to Portland, where she could treat her condition and I could enjoy my drug of choice without being arrested and jailed. Like, perhaps, your wife (assuming) might treat her pain with Vicodin and you might enjoy a cold beer without fear of law enforcement intervention.

During the intervening thirteen years, our nieces and nephews grew up and became adults. We missed almost all of their development. We couldn’t be the aunt and uncle we wanted to be because my ex-wife’s medicine is a crime in Idaho. The few times we’d drive back into the state for a birthday or graduation were harrowing as we worried whether she’d get another migraine while in Idaho.

Man, I hope the vacuum at the car wash was really, really efficient! (Copyright: andreypopov / 123RF Stock Photo)
Man, I hope the vacuum at the car wash was really, really efficient! (Copyright: andreypopov / 123RF Stock Photo)

Your title presumes there aren’t cannabis consumers living in Idaho already. There are more than you can imagine. They’re all around you, propping up a black market economy and denying Idaho millions in tax revenue. But they do provide a consistent trickle of clients for your minimum security private prison, exclusively for substance abusers, that helps your governor and state reps get political contributions from the private prison industry.

Your attempt at a “gotcha” by noting that if weed isn’t addictive, I should just stop smoking it when I come to Idaho, completely misses the point. Idaho is one of four states (WY, NJ, & SD) with statutes that criminalize merely having marijuana in your system. If I smoked legal marijuana in Ontario and then walked across the state line over to Fruitland, I could be arrested and jailed for crossing a bridge with bloodshot eyes.

Possession of any amount of marijuana earns me a misdemeanor with a possible one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. I’m not bringing any marijuana into Idaho; I have plenty of friends all over the state who have some and are willing to share. But every trip we’d make was fraught with the worry that we’d get pulled over by ISP for our Oregon plates and discover we’d not been as thorough in clearing our car and baggage of contraband as we thought. Those drug dogs can alert on as little as a fleck of marijuana (or the cop directing the dog to alert so he can search without a warrant) and even a fleck can get me arrested.

Police Dog
In one UC Davis study, researchers found that drug dogs false-alerted over 200 times. The dogs were much more likely to false-alert when their handler believed there were drugs to be found.

I don’t have to smoke it or possess it to get in trouble in Idaho. In fact, many Idahoans who don’t smoke or possess pot get in trouble for it. Once on my radio show, I had a contest to determine who did the most time for the least weed. My winner was a student from Idaho State University who never smoked pot in her life. She was in the dorm room of a friend who also didn’t smoke pot when a campus cop investigating a noise complaint noticed a never-used bong on a bookshelf. That’s paraphernalia in Idaho, used or not, and got the dorm resident a misdemeanor charge, even though it was her roommate’s bong. When less than an eighth-ounce of the roommate’s marijuana was found in the subsequent search of the room, the young lady visitor was charged with “presence at location where marijuana is cultivated or stored” and served fifteen days in jail.

But it’s clear from the rest of your article that you’re not basing your opinions on cannabis on any sense of compassion, justice, or science, but rather your holier-than-thou anecdotal judgments and tired, debunked stereotypes. You’re living proof of the axiom that marijuana is the drug so powerful it addles the minds of those who don’t use it more than those who do.

"If it's harmless then why spend your hard-earned cash on something that goes up in smoke? While it may not have the empty calories of alcohol, it's transitory. It requires you to reach for your wallet again the next day. Unlike a bowl of salad or a juicy steak, you also don't need marijuana for survival." (Photo: Drew Nash, Times-News)
“If [marijuana’s] harmless then why spend your hard-earned cash on something that goes up in smoke? While it may not have the empty calories of alcohol, it’s transitory. It requires you to reach for your wallet again the next day. Unlike a bowl of salad or a juicy steak, you also don’t need marijuana for survival.” Methinks Mr. Colley’s first-hand knowledge of salad rivals his first-hand knowledge of marijuana. (Photo: Drew Nash, Times-News)
Your jibe telling me “don’t visit” to benefit the state is up to the readers to decide. Has Idaho benefitted from my ex-wife and I not paying taxes in that state for 13 years? Benefitted from us spending our disposable income in Oregon businesses? Benefitted from us building our businesses that created jobs in Portland?

The noise they make about their proclivity reminds me of a couple of pot heads in my old high school. Our history teacher was a retired Army colonel and tough as a man comes. He opened the floor to debate one day about legalization. Remember, this was 40 years ago! The usually listless dope smokers got so animated he broke into laughter. “You guys get higher talking about it than I do off a six-pack!” he said. The guys who smoked a lot of weed in high school often ended up dropping out and taking up lives of petty crime.

Judging by the comments I read when I see stories about drug legalization, I don’t believe marijuana is harmless. The vitriol is of a nature beyond all reason. You get, Don’t knock it until you try it, as if somehow it’s going to make you happier, prettier and wealthier. The nastiness is of a variety I’d expect to see from a heroin addict three days into withdrawal.

Your stories about how animated we become over the legalization debate only illustrates how passionate an oppressed minority can be when it comes to discussing their liberation. I’ll bet your circa-1966 female classmates might have gotten just as animated on a discussion over abortion rights. And when people like you throw stones at us from your alcohol-filled glass houses, it makes us even angrier.

This drug kills 88,000 people annually. That's 88,000 more people than marijuana kills annually. But it's OK to manufacture, advertise, and consume in public, because culture.
This drug kills 88,000 people annually. That’s 88,000 more people than marijuana kills annually. But it’s OK to manufacture, advertise, and consume in public, because culture.

Speaking of booze, the most dangerous recreational drug, your tale of the adults pushing their thirteen-year-old to smoke marijuana was as enlightening as it would be if you substituted alcohol as the substance. Clearly, parents who force their kids to take drugs are abusive (unless, of course, it is pharmaceutical speed) and there are probably far worse problems going on in that family. How does a couple of sick adults abusing a child make all adult marijuana use harmful? If this is how your logic works, we’d better not discuss Catholicism.

You toss off a comment implying there are a few cannabis consumers “who [work] in pressed shirts, ties and wing-tips”. Yes, Mr. Colley, that would be me. I worked in information technology in Idaho for years, from government to banking to hospitals to eventually teaching computer software. And the entire time I was a regular cannabis consumer. These aren’t jobs that any dim bulb can compete in, yet there I was, a daily pot smoker, exceeding all my assigned goals, beating all my deadlines, and earning rave reviews from management. For fifteen years I managed databases and network security, only to lose that career when a test of my armpit hair outed me as a pot smoker.

Then you make a couple of analogies that wouldn’t get you a passing grade in a high school composition class. In one, you compare marijuana smoking to the legal bungee jumping still allowed on that bridge over the Snake River Canyon. Why in the world does Idaho allow people to get a chemical high (adrenaline) doing something that injures and kills people? Your other analogy involves the lottery, which you admit to partaking in, then use to condemn “cross[ing] the moral line.” Would we all be better off pushing the lottery back into the arms of gangsters “running the numbers”?

You may strap a rubber band onto your legs and jump off this bridge while highway traffic is actively crossing it. But you may not smoke marijuana, because it is dangerous. (By Daniel Mayer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 1.0, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
You may strap a rubber band onto your legs and jump off this bridge while highway traffic is actively crossing it. But you may not smoke marijuana, because it is dangerous. (By Daniel Mayer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 1.0, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
Your comments about Marinol are laughable. This is the synthetic version of THC (the cannabinoid that gets you high) that contains none of the CBD (the cannabinoid that reduces psychoactivity in THC), which is legal in all fifty states because it makes a profit for a pharmaceutical company. Not only does it not work as effectively for medical marijuana patients (imagine telling a puking chemo patient to swallow a pill), but you also confuse it with the non-psychoactive CBD-oil your governor vetoed that’s been found to reduce or eliminate seizures in epileptics.

Then you go on with the long-debunked “gateway drug” theory, because you have cop friends who tell you it is true. Never mind that the Institute of Medicine in 1999 discovered that “there is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” Never mind that there is an entire organization of cops called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition who recognize that the war on drugs is an utter failure. Since Barney Fife told you all potheads move on to heroin and one of your high school pothead acquaintances was busted cooking meth, the “gateway drug” theory must be true.

Almost 20 million regular marijuana smokers, only 300,000 regular heroin users. What kind of gateway only lets 1 out of 66 people through? (Source: National Survey on Drug Use & Health 2013)
Almost 20 million regular marijuana smokers, only 300,000 regular heroin users. What kind of gateway only lets 1 out of 66 people through? (Source: National Survey on Drug Use & Health 2013)

Here’s where I’ll throw you a bone, Mr. Colley. There is a gateway involved in the use of marijuana, and that’s the gateway to the illegal drug market. When I was living in Idaho, I had to buy my weed from “the guy”, and he also liked to sell mushrooms, LSD, and meth. He never checked my ID and he’d sell me as much weed as I wanted. There was no guarantee his weed was what he said it was or that it wasn’t adulterated with something else. The profit “the guy” made from his dealing wasn’t taxed at all and was so lucrative he didn’t need any other work – he was living in Idaho tax-free and working at most two hours a day.

But when I go buy my weed in Portland, they check my ID at the door, despite my gray temples. All they have for sale there are marijuana products – not a speck of other drugs in sight. Everything is tested and properly labeled and millions of dollars in taxes flow to the state. In Colorado, research shows that 18,000 jobs have been created and over $2.4 billion in economic activity has been created.

Idaho, we've got you surrounded! Come out with your prohibition laws repealed and nobody gets hurt!
Idaho, we’ve got you surrounded! Come out with your prohibition laws repealed and nobody gets hurt!

Idaho stands as one of only seven remaining states where there’s no legal marijuana, no medical marijuana, and not even non-psychoactive cannabidiol oil to help epileptic children. Maybe you’re content with Idaho prosecuting a local mother in Gooding who is trying to save her epileptic daughter’s life, all because your state drug czar (too chicken to debate me face-to-face) convinced your governor to veto the CBD bill your state legislature passed, because you’re all terrified that relenting one micron from absolute prohibition will lead to people smoking pot in your state.

Mr. Colley, your stance on marijuana is nothing but bigotry against the people who use it, plain and simple. You judge us all by the small minority you see who are problematic users, as flawed a judgment as thinking all drinkers are alcoholics. You only see the tip of the iceberg of cannabis consumers, the ones outed by being caught and those with nothing to lose who out themselves. You don’t see the vast majority of us hiding in garages and dark parking lots, because in Idaho, merely talking about marijuana can earn you a visit from the police and cost you your job, home, possessions, and children.

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 199 Articles

Russ Belville – or “Radical” Russ, as he is known on-air – hosts The Marijuana Agenda, a live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on MJAgenda.com.  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but “Radical” Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 70 North American cities.