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BOISE — The Idaho House defeated a proposed anti-drug constitutional amendment Thursday that sought to forbid Idaho from ever legalizing marijuana, with a half-dozen House Republicans saying Idahoans want medical marijuana authorized and the Constitution shouldn’t be amended to foreclose that.

HJR 4 would have permanently required a two-thirds vote of each house to legalize any drug that’s currently illegal — including medical marijuana and CBD oil, or other hemp products containing any trace of THC. It needed two-thirds support from each house to be placed on the November 2022 ballot, or 47 “yes” votes in the House; the vote Thursday was 42-28 after a debate that stretched for more than two hours.

The proposal drew bipartisan opposition, including from Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, who drew laughter when he said backers came to him, and, “They said we’re going to get rid of psychotropic drugs in Idaho. And I said, finally, we’re getting rid of alcohol?”

“The people of Idaho overwhelmingly would like medical marijuana — it’s off the scales,” Kingsley told the House. “Idaho is the last state to just hold out to not give people medicine that they need for cancer, for nausea. There’s so many people that medical marijuana works for, especially people that have bowel issues and bowel cancers, because opiates are very constipating. … I’ve looked at this a lot, and nobody has ever overdosed on cannabis. Think about that. How many people have overdosed from opiates? … I’ve seen how detrimental this drug is to people, and here we can give people an alternative.”

Backers of a medical marijuana initiative in Idaho were cleared in February to begin gathering signatures for a 2022 ballot measure; Idaho is one of just three states, along with Nebraska and Kansas, that allow no medical marijuana in any form. Both Nebraska and Kansas have medical marijuana legislation pending this year.

Kingsley said in his hometown of Lewiston, he knows of a constituent who’s becoming a criminal by driving across the bridge to Clarkston, Washington, to buy medicine that’s the only thing that will relieve the constituent’s cancer-ridden elderly mother’s pain.

“We’re causing people in Idaho to be criminals who need the medicine,” Kingsley said. “I cannot think of a better definition of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. That’s what this bill will do.”

He called on the House to defeat HJR 4, and look at instead passing something like the very restrictive medical marijuana bill that was brought to the Legislature this year by Sgt. Jeremy Kitzhaber, an Iraq veteran with debilitating cancer.

An earlier version of the proposed amendment, SJR 101, passed the Senate on Feb. 3 on a 24-11 vote, reaching the two-thirds mark without a single vote to spare. Changing the Idaho Constitution requires two-thirds support from each house of the Legislature plus a majority vote of the people at the next general election.

Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, the measure’s lead House sponsor, said, “When we consider the drug policy of the state, we ought to have the highest bar that we can for that policy. … These are very highly addictive and often abused drugs.”

“We have to buttress our state against Oregon-style and now Washington-style policy and the drugs that come with them,” DeMordaunt said, telling the House the amendment would promote “temperance and sobriety and morality.”

Rep. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, said, “What I have heard people saying, is, ‘Hey, maybe we need a medicinal path forward on cannabis.’ And there’s a ballot initiative on that, that people are trying to collect signatures for. And if they get that, then the people go to the polls and they will vote either yes or not. Why do we have to have two questions that ask the opposite side of the same question?”

Adams, who like many House members debated more than once on the bill — and nearly two dozen spoke out in the debate — said, “The state has never been the one that defined sobriety and morality in my home.”

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, debating in favor of the amendment, said, “This does appear to have marijuana at the heart of this resolution. I’m fine with having that debate in this body.”

He said states that have legalized recreational marijuana started with CBD oil, then medical use, and then recreational.

“It’s coming to Idaho unless this body draws a very clear line in the sand … that we do not want recreational marijuana,” he said.

Rep. Marco Erickson, R-Idaho Falls, also urged support for the measure.

“I’ve sat on the front lines and worked with families that are devastated and destroyed,” said Erickson, who has a career background in behavioral and mental health. “Now I’m in the Legislature. It’s my duty to stand up and speak on behalf of those families that need our help, and they don’t get our help when we pass policies that don’t protect them from things they don’t know they’re getting into. … They’ll tell you they never expected to go that far, they never expected to become a methamphetamine addict, they started small.” Erickson said, “I love prevention. … In prevention, you get to stop the problem before it starts, so that’s where my passion is.”

Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, said she opposed the measure because this year’s industrial hemp legalization bill only legalized the production, processing and transportation of hemp as an agricultural product — it didn’t remove hemp with up to 0.3% THC entirely from Idaho’s list of Schedule 1 drugs. That’s used in products like CBD oil, salves and other products.

“We know why this bill is coming forward, it’s because of the fear of marijuana,” Moon told the House. “I get it. I’ve never used the stuff.”

But, she said, “The hemp on Schedule 1 is a problem in this bill. Please consider that when you vote.”

Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, supporting the proposed amendment, said he’s “a native Idahoan with ancestors that go back to pioneer time.”

He said when he talks to newcomers to Idaho, they often tell him, “Please don’t let Idaho become whatever city they moved from.”

They “inevitably” talk about how drugs have changed their communities, he said. “Now across the nation, we’re seeing this drug addiction flourishing, we’re seeing it hit some once-fine cities across the nation.”

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “There are people coming to Idaho to get away from that crap, it’s not right. And if you’re not going to support this, you’re not going to support anything else to fix this, my friends.”

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, objected, saying Moyle was impugning other members’ motives with regard to their votes. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, cautioned Moyle, “You’re painting with a pretty broad brush.”

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said she’s long been anti-drug, and opposes recreational marijuana, but said, “My mother got hooked on oxycontin as a 70-plus-year-old. We could not get her off it because she had pain issues. She ended up killing herself because of it.”

“So I am going to vote no, but it’s certainly not because I like drugs,” she said.

Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, repeatedly fought back tears as he recounted a family member’s struggle with drugs.

“Let’s help the family. Let’s support this,” he said. “Let’s do what little we can do. It’s going to come. We’re going to lose in the end. But let’s try now to do our best to at least slow it down and save one, two, some. I know this vote’s going to be close. … If just one of you will listen to me, don’t let another family go through this.”

Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, speaking quietly, as is her wont, told the House her father died because of addiction.

“He had a lot of promise, and our family was pretty stricken with it,” she said. “I would say let’s work to help our families, but this isn’t the way, and please vote no.”

The original Senate version of the measure was championed by Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, who also sponsored the slightly scaled-back House version after determining the Senate-passed version was “a bridge too far” for the House.

Without a constitutional amendment, Grow warned, “a wave will roll over us … that will lead to legalization.”

Grow also told the House State Affairs Committee in March that if a medical marijuana initiative and the constitutional amendment were on the same November ballot in 2022 and both passed, the amendment would trump the initiative; and if marijuana were legalized at the federal level, it would remain illegal in Idaho under the amendment, unless two-thirds of lawmakers in each house voted to change that.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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