Medical Marijuana Utah

A group in Idaho is working on a renewed effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in 2020.

BOISE — Backers of a proposed medical marijuana initiative filed a new version with the state on Tuesday, after their earlier one drew withering criticism in an Idaho attorney general’s review, but it turned out they were short of the 20 valid signatures needed to restart the process.

“They have been informed,” Lisa Power, state election director for the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, said Wednesday. More than 20 were turned in, Power said, but fewer than 20 were valid, which means they match records for current Idaho registered voters, including current addresses.

“This attempt really looks good as far as form,” Power said. “They are, as far as I know, trying to remedy the situation.”

James Piotrowski, whose Boise law firm is representing the new group of petitioners, said, “Our small group of activists is scrambling to get that done.”

They were three valid signatures short, he said Wednesday. “As I understand it, if we get them three more valid signatures today, they’ll go ahead and process it.” If not, they’ll start over and turn in 20 valid ones within the next few days, he said. “This is the easy part of the process, actually. Getting the 55,000 signatures is going to be the hard part.”

To make the November 2020 general election ballot, the initiative backers would need to collect signatures from 55,057 registered Idaho voters — 6% of those who were registered to vote in the November 2018 election. The final tally must include 6% of registered voters in at least 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. Those would be due by April 30, 2020.

The lead petitioners for the new version are John Bellville, who also was the lead petitioner for the previous attempt, along with Dana Wilson and David Lybolt.

Unlike the earlier version, the new one drops legalization of industrial hemp to focus on just setting up a system for legalized medical marijuana in Idaho. The Idaho attorney general’s office found that the earlier version would have violated an existing single-subject rule for initiative petitions by including both topics.

“We’re trying to make this as smooth and straightforward as possible,” Piotrowski said. “Although I think we would win litigation over that issue, we’d sooner avoid litigation.”

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The other changes in the 18-page initiative are mostly a matter of “word-smithing,” Piotrowski said, to make sure all the wording fit in with the way Idaho laws are written, rather than echoing pieces of statutes enacted in other states. “A big part of what we did was try to make sure what we had here was an Idaho solution,” he said.

Like the earlier measure, the initiative would decriminalize under state law the possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana for registered patients with a specified “debilitating medical condition,” from cancer to chronic pain. It also would protect medical marijuana production facilities and medical marijuana dispensaries from civil forfeitures and penalties under state law, and make it illegal to discriminate against registered medical marijuana users in education, housing or employment.

“It’s a pretty carefully thought-out regulatory system both for patients and providers,” Piotrowski said. Patients would be permitted to grow their own, but strict regulations would be in place on providers.

“We are absolutely not trying to push something that’s going to be a wink and a nod for recreational use,” Piotrowski said. “This is truly a medical-use law that we’re proposing, that would focus on patients who need or can use the drug for medical purposes.”

Once the petition is refiled with the required 20 valid signatures, it would go through another review by the Idaho attorney general’s office before backers could start gathering signatures to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot.

Among Idaho’s neighbors, only Wyoming doesn’t allow medical marijuana. Nevada legalized recreational marijuana in 2017, and Utah approved medical marijuana in November. Oregon and Washington both have legal recreational marijuana; Montana has legal medical marijuana. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia allow legal marijuana in some form.

Piotrowski said the new initiative’s backers are optimistic they’ll make the ballot and get their measure approved, based on polling in Idaho that’s shown strong support for legalizing medicinal use of cannabis.

An Idaho Politics Weekly poll published in March, conducted by Utah pollster Dan Jones & Associates, found 73% of Idahoans backing legal medical marijuana with just 26% opposed, though 57% opposed legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

In 2011, the respected Boise State Public Policy Survey found that 74% of Idahoans supported allowing “terminally and seriously ill patients to use and purchase marijuana for medical purposes,” with just 23% opposed; that survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.

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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