What a weird thing Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, is up to.
He’s the sponsor of a constitutional amendment that would forever ban the “production, manufacture, transportation, sale, delivery, dispensing, distribution, possession or use” of marijuana within the state of Idaho.
Clearly Idaho lawmakers — who cannot even bring themselves to legalize the non- psychotropic hemp — are out of step with voters in the rest of country. Medicinal marijuana is legal in 34 states. Recreational use is legal in 11. Idaho is surrounded by far more lenient states, including Washington — where voters approved recreational use in 2012; Oregon, which did the same in 2014; Nevada, where a ballot measure legalized recreational use in 2016; Utah, where voters agreed to allow medicinal applications in 2018, and Montana, where voters approved recreational use just last year.
There’s also the chance that Democratic control of Congress will translate into more relaxed national laws and regulations.
Under those circumstances, what would be the point of amending Idaho’s Constitution?
It’s possible Idaho’s conservative congressional delegation can arrange for the kind of legal carve-out that would allow the Gem State to maintain the status quo within its borders.
Of course, Grow’s critics may want to pursue how such an amendment can withstand assertions that it stands in restraint of interstate commerce under the U.S. Constitution.
More to the point, why would Idaho taxpayers want to continue paying a premium to imprison people for an activity that is sanctioned — indeed taxed and regulated — just across the borders? Every person who is sent to jail or prison on a marijuana conviction is one more family disrupted and one more productive citizen removed from the workforce.
The irony here is Grow’s choice of legislative vehicle.
To pass any amendment to the state constitution, Grow would need a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. But that merely places the question before the voters in the November 2022 general election. Passage requires a majority vote.
Wasn’t this the same Sen. Grow who was so adamantly against ballot measures that he pushed a bill in 2019 that would have stopped activists from placing any initiative or referendum on the ballot? Were it not for Gov. Brad Little’s veto, that would be the law today.
At the time, Grow’s handiwork was viewed as a legislative reaction to the successful ballot measure that expanded Medicaid to impoverished Idaho adults a year earlier.
But Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, let the cat out of the bag. As Guthrie put it, the “elephant in the room” was a potential ballot measure to liberalize Idaho’s marijuana laws. Grow’s measure would stop that from ever happening.
“I’m not as fearful of things that may be coming in the future as others are — certainly a big concern has been marijuana,” he said. “Certainly the speculation has been that’s part of the reason.”
Pressed by a reporter from the Idaho Press, Grow did not deny it: “I said all I had to say in the Senate and State Affairs (Committee). The governor did his thing, and I appreciate that decision.”
Ballot measures, however, are not defined by lawyers, policy wonks or political scientists. Ordinary voters boil the details down to a binary choice — yes or no.
Or in this case, the decision will come down to this: Is Idaho for pot or against it?
Given the momentum for legalization nationwide and on the border Idaho shares with every state except Wyoming, what do you think the odds are that Idahoans will vote their own experience and reject this amendment?
It doesn’t end there.
By then, a majority of Idahoans will have been persuaded toward changing Idaho’s marijuana laws.
A movement of volunteers and activists — possibly numbering into the tens of thousands — will have been organized to defeat Grow’s amendment. Encouraged by their success, they will proceed with placing their legalization initiative on the next election ballot. And this time, they will have access to money from interests outside the state who see a pathway toward qualifying and passing such a measure.
Sitting on the sidelines will be Grow and all the anti-marijuana lawmakers who set this entire process in motion.
If you’re so afraid of what the voters will say, Sen. Grow, why are you asking them? — M.T.