Congressional action to legalize hemp means the Idaho Legislature and Gov. Brad Little will have good cause to confront the state’s cannabis policy this winter. And it couldn’t have come at a better time: Idaho now finds itself surrounded on all sides by legal marijuana in one form or another. Utah has enacted medical marijuana legislation. Residents of the Oregon town of Ontario just voted to allow recreational marijuana, meaning every town on Idaho’s western edge is just a heartbeat away from boatloads of legal weed.
As of this writing, President Trump is expected to sign the $867 billion farm bill that includes agriculture subsidies and the federal government’s food stamp program. Also contained in the bill are provisions ending the mistaken inclusion of hemp with the misguided and ultimately harmful War on Drugs. The federal legislation creates a regulatory framework for states that allow hemp cultivation, which is already legal in all but nine states. Idaho is the only hemp-prohibiting western state. Thus, if Idaho farmers want to benefit from the new federal law, Idaho lawmakers need to update its no-tolerance policy for THC, the stuff in cannabis that gets a person high. Hemp has minuscule amounts, making it worthless in the illegal drug trade, but useful for a lot of other applications, including textiles and food.
Idaho’s drug laws are so stringent that a pair of truck drivers were recently arrested in Boise for hauling hemp from a legal hemp farm in Colorado to a legal farm in Oregon. According to news accounts, both men are law-abiding people, in their 20s, who now face felonies that carry mandatory prison time under Idaho’s drug trafficking statute.
Idaho could easily incorporate the farm bill’s provisions into law, which could be beneficial to Idaho’s ag industry. Legislators could try again to legalize any products containing cannabidiol (CBD) oil. The CBD route has been tried twice, without success. Lawmakers could also look at broader options, such as decriminalization for marijuana possession or allowing medical marijuana.
The point is, with a federal ag policy that allows hemp, a new Idaho governor and a new state Legislature, this is the perfect time to have a serious conversation about, and to take action on, our state’s cannabis policy. We should all be asking: What is the result we seek, and what do our current drug laws get us? Should hemp growing continue to be banned? Do we really want to arrest, prosecute and jail truck drivers, in this case, for hauling a harmless hemp plant from Point A to Point B? Do we really want grandma to face jail time for using marijuana as part of her arthritis treatment? Is it really necessary for the well-being of our state to criminalize a mom’s purchase of CBD oil to treat her child’s intractable epilepsy?
There’s a side benefit of elected officials asking tough questions: It could spare other truck drivers innocently hauling hemp through the state from facing hard time behind bars in Idaho. Further, police could devote their time to catching thieves, rapists and murderers. Court system resources could be freed to convict such criminals. And taxpayers could be spared the expense of incarcerating people who are only engaged in peaceful, voluntary and honest activities.