Which State Will Be The Last To Legalize Marijuana?

Ain't a-gonna be no legal reefers no-way no-how!
Ain't a-gonna be no legal reefers no-way no-how!

Kansas or Idaho Will Be The Last Absolute Prohibition State

My colleague Johnny Green has posted “Will Marijuana Reform Ever Come To Idaho?” It’s a great read, of course, especially as a native Idahoan (born at Nampa Mercy Hospital, graduated Nampa High Class of 1985, attended three years at Boise State, six years service in the Idaho National Guard).

I have just returned from the Missouri Cannabis Conference. During my keynote, I talked about my Idaho roots. As a “red state refugee” now living in Portland, Oregon, I discuss my upbringing in Canyon County, one of the more conservative counties in Idaho, to connect with my landlocked audiences.

“As I travel, people often ask me which state I think will be the last to legalize marijuana,” I told the crowd in a lecture hall at Mizzou. Before I could complete the sentence, an older African-American lady in the third row blurted, “Kansas!”

“She’s right,” I responded. “There are only six states remaining that have absolute marijuana prohibition – no legal, no medical, no CBD oil. All forms of cannabis are illegal for anybody to use for any reason. They are Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana, and West Virginia.”

Marijuana States of America
I’ve never liked the medical marijuana maps that color all the medical states in green. California medical marijuana and Minnesota medical marijuana could not be more dissimilar.

As I explained at Mizzou, I pick Kansas as the last state because Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota have the power of citizen initiatives. South Dakota has placed a medical initiative on the ballot and lost. Nebraska is a first-offense decriminalization state. Indiana and West Virginia are dealing with huge heroin problems and they’re near Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which provide templates and political cover for a strict no-home-grow medical marijuana program.

But in Kansas, you have a special sort of rural conservative religious intolerance for marijuana and no initiative power for anybody to do anything about it. Other than Colorado on the west, Kansas is surrounded by states that generally agree that weed is evil. If I have to bet, Kansas is the last state to end absolute prohibition.

Don’t count out the Gem State, though. That power of initiative is only useful if it is wielded properly.

Idaho Is What America Was – Set Your Clock Back 30 Years

Johnny Green notes the island of prohibition that Idaho has become, surrounded by three legal states, another one that added dispensaries, two more with CBD programs, and a country about to legalize marijuana.

The mood in Idaho among many elected officials and law enforcement is that Idaho is being flooded by out of state marijuana, and that Idaho needs to battle the devil’s lettuce at all costs, to the bitter end.

Idaho elected officials need to realize that Idaho doesn’t have a marijuana problem, it has a prohibition problem. Idaho needs jobs, and needs tax revenues, and needs to be wise with every law enforcement dollar that it has.

This is a perfectly logical and valid argument for ending absolute prohibition, if you are talking about a state in which logic operates.

As Johnny notes in his article, in 2013 the Idaho Senate debated Senate Concurrent Resolution 112. The resolution was not a law; it was just the Senate stating “its opposition to efforts to legalize marijuana for any purpose in the State of Idaho.” This was in response to a threat of a citizen’s medical marijuana initiative. It passed 29-5.

Ain't a-gonna be no legal reefers no-way no-how!
Ain’t a-gonna be no legal reefers no-way no-how, ever, never, forever!

The very next year in March of 2014, though, next-door and religiously-similar Utah passed the nation’s first cannabidiol oil bill. Apparently enough legislators had read “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me” and figured the evil weed God made wasn’t quite as evil as forbidding the little children from being healed of daily seizures.

The CBD-only movement swept through other red states like Wyoming, Iowa, and South Carolina. Within a year and a week, there were a dozen such CBD-only states.

Shortly after the one year anniversary of Utah’s law, the Idaho Senate that 25 months prior opposed marijuana for “any purpose” voted 22-12 to pass a CBD-only bill. In April 2015, the House reversed its opposition to the bill and passed it 39-30.

Then Idaho Gov. Butch Otter vetoed the bill. Not much of a Bible fan, I guess.

This governor who is worried about non-toxic, non-psychoactive CBD oil being 'contrary to federal law' and a potential to 'decrease public safety' that 'look[s] past the potential for misuse and abuse with criminal intent'
This governor who was worried in 2015 about non-toxic, non-psychoactive CBD oil being ‘contrary to federal law’ that may ‘decrease public safety’ and ‘look[s] past the potential for misuse and abuse with criminal intent’ signed an emergency law in 2014 – the day after Utah legalized CBD oil – that nullified any new federal laws that would mandate universal background checks, ban large-capacity magazines and assault weapons, saying, ”I signed it into law [to protect] Idaho law enforcement officials from enforcing federal firearms or ammunition restrictions…” That was a week after he signed a law allowing concealed weapons on college campuses.
The problem is that it’s not about Idaho spending money to stop pot. If it was, making an economic argument would work. It’s about Idaho spending money to stop potheads. It’s a culture war. There is no cost too great to protect the Idaho way of life.

There is a popular saying there: “Idaho is What America Was”, and it’s embraced proudly without any sense of history, irony, or regret. “Make America Great Again” directly mined that vein in Idaho and other similar landlocked red states I regularly visit.

If legalization meant that everything stayed like it is now – hippies smoke their weed, but nobody knows because they’re all terrified of getting caught and hiding in their North End enclaves in Boise – then you could sell it in Idaho.

But to the Idaho voter, legalization means “We approve of potheads and want to see more of them. We’d like to see pot leaves on billboards and ads for bongs and pot shops. It would be great if we’d catch whiffs of pot smoke as we wander downtown or in our parks or floating the Boise River (at least more than we already do). Plus, we’d love more of that dirt-worshipping, gun-hating, anti-meat, politically-correct, feminazi, atheist, libtard, dreadlocked, pierced, tattooed, non-whiteness that always comes with the potheads. And hackey sacks and skateboards and reggae and drum circles and tie dye and more!”

If you want to understand what the average Idaho voter thinks of pot, watch the South Park episode where Cartman deals with the influx of hippies. Cartman is the Idaho id. I have told this to numerous Idaho activists. Throwing Hempfests and pushing medical marijuana are laudable, but I believe they’re detrimental to what could bring success to Idaho. They just reinforce to the Idahoan what it is they feel elevates them above their hippie-infested western neighbors.

Idaho Needs Decriminalization, Not Medical Marijuana

The thing I think could pass in an Idaho initiative would be decriminalization. Any medical marijuana that could get through would have to be a seriously compromised law that would be expensive and highly regulated. It would probably not allow home grow and might even be one that forbids plant material and smoking.

But with decriminalization, activists wouldn’t have to make the case that marijuana is a good thing. They can emphasize that the prohibition that they think is keeping the hippies out would still be in effect.

Then comes the pivot: Idaho can’t stop the other states around it from legalizing. That same time when the Idaho Senate was passing the resolution that marijuana shall never be legal, they also rejected a measure that said the feds ought to intervene in Washington and Colorado. Idahoans love their states’ rights.

So they could point out that legalization to the west and southwest of Idaho is inevitably going to lead to more tourists traveling through and more Idahoans seeking weed to smuggle home. It’s going to mean more arrests, over-tasked cops, overfilled jails, and overworked courts. And there’s still a meth problem to deal with in Idaho.

With decrim, it could be posed as a money-maker for Idaho. Make the one ounce that Washingtonians, Oregonians, and Nevadans can possess a ticket in Idaho with a $1,000 fine.

Then, to leverage some compassion for the sick, allow the fine to be reduced or waived by a judge if the person can demonstrate a legitimate medical-use defense. Perhaps another state’s medical card becomes an automatic waiver to the possession fine. Perhaps make the cultivation felony a no-jail misdemeanor for a cultivator with a medical necessity.

This avoids the discussions of home grows and dispensaries altogether, while providing some relief potentially to a greater range of patients telling their stories to a judge than having to meet a condition list.

 

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 191 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Russ Belville Show - The Voice of the Marijuana Nation, a two-hour live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on RadicalRuss.com (learn more on our Podcast page).  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 50 North American cities.