BOISE — Idaho marijuana advocates have waited since 2010 for a vote to legalize cannabis as medicine, and they’ll have to wait at least two more years.
“We aren’t going to meet numbers,” said Joe Evans, treasurer for Kind Idaho, a political action committee collecting signatures to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot.
Kind Idaho has collected about one-tenth of the nearly 70,000 signatures required to qualify the initiative for the November ballot, Evans said. A lack of national support and local organizational snafus led to the disappointing effort this cycle, advocates said.
“We ran into some issues along the way with basically starting up a grass-roots organization without any sort of financial backing or assistance,” Evans told The Idaho Statesman by phone.
Another organization hoping to decriminalize marijuana possession won’t meet its goal either. The deadline to submit the signatures is April 29.
While citizen initiatives stalled this election cycle, advocates see promising signs in the Idaho Legislature, which has been sending mixed signals on its appetite for legalization.
The historically anti-marijuana Republican leaders didn’t try to stymie legalization efforts this year, and lawmakers authorized the use of a cannabis-derived pain relief spray.
Last year, lawmakers considered, but ultimately rejected, an anti-drug constitutional amendment that would have required the majority of the Legislature to approve any legalization attempts by ballot initiative.
Another bill last year would have barred advocates from collecting signatures at Oregon, Washington and Nevada retail locations frequented by Idaho residents. Legislators passed that bill, but Gov. Brad Little — who has said he will never sign off on marijuana legalization — vetoed it for constitutional concerns.
Meanwhile, Idaho last year became the last state to legalize hemp for industrial and agricultural uses. Hemp is a cannabis-derived crop with a wide variety of uses, including in manufacturing and textiles.
“I see — with the exception of a few personalities — the trend, even among Republicans, that medical marijuana is becoming more and more of a potential reality in the state of Idaho,” Evans said.
One of the few vocal supporters of medical marijuana in the Legislature is GOP Rep. Mike Kingsley. Kingsley fought last year’s constitutional amendment, and he believes that “battle” helped persuade lawmakers to authorize a cannabis-derived relief spray for people with multiple sclerosis once it gains approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“I’m excited about that,” Kingsley told the Statesman by phone. “I think it’s a good sign for the future.”
Recreational marijuana is legal in 18 states, including four states bordering Idaho, and Washington, D.C., while 19 states legalized the drug for medicinal purposes. Some states, such as Nebraska, where pot is still illegal, eliminated jail requirements for people who possess small amounts.
Online polling suggests most Idahoans support legalizing marijuana. Sixty percent of respondents to an Internet poll by Civiqs said they support legalization. That’s up five percentage points from 2018. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats in Idaho, 70% of independents and 43% of Republicans support legalization, according to the poll.
Kingsley does not support recreational use in Idaho. Instead, he’s advocating for people with cancer and other illnesses — such as his uncle, who had to illegally obtain marijuana for cancer treatment.
“I do not want Idaho to become like Washington, or Oregon, or California,” Kingsley said. “I’m highly against recreational, but it’s definitely medicine.”
Legalization attempts have failed to garner enough support in each initiative cycle since 2010.
“Why? No money,” Russ Belville, who’s leading a decriminalization initiative for Legalize the Idaho Way, said in a recent social media post. Belville did not respond to an interview request.
Legalize the Idaho Way also won’t have enough signatures for the November ballot. Idaho advocates aren’t attracting support from national organizations with deep pockets, Belville said in the Facebook video.
Local advocates will try again in 2024. Evans, who is running as a Libertarian in the 1st Congressional District race against incumbent GOP Rep. Russ Fulcher, said Kind Idaho is shifting its focus to electing pro-marijuana candidates.
Before the 2024 petition launches, organizational problems need to be addressed, Evans said. Volunteers often struggle with signature gathering rules, Evans said, and miscommunication is compounded by frequent turnover in leadership.
“It’s almost like we’ve started fresh every time we’ve tried to run it,” Evans said.
Idaho law requires signatures from 6% of registered voters in 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts to qualify an initiative for the ballot.