Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, let the cat — or in his words, the elephant — out of the bag on March 22.
It’s not legislator anger at the voters approving Proposition 2 — the measure repudiating the Legislature’s expressed desire to leave 62,000 low-income Idaho adults without the health insurance Medicaid expansion would afford them — that is fueling anti-initiative fever in the Statehouse.
Lawmakers are freaked out that someone might put a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot and pass it.
When Guthrie dubbed that issue the “elephant in the room,” he gave voice to that anxiety.
If nothing else, it explains the hyperventilation going on in Boise. Why else would legislators endure overwhelming public condemnation by supporting such onerous requirements on initiative campaigns to all but render them useless? They want to nearly double the number of signatures required, reduce the time available by two-thirds to collect them and give voters in just four of 35 legislative districts the ability to stop any measure from getting on the ballot.
Which brings us to the Idaho Cannabis Coalition, which on March 11 took the first steps toward certifying a medical marijuana initiative.
Friends and foes of legal pot in Idaho are looking at the same trends:
l Polling suggests even conservative Idahoans might support it. Earlier this month, Idaho Politics Weekly pollster Dan Jones and Associates found 73 percent of Idahoans support medical pot, but 57 percent would oppose legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
l Idaho is virtually surrounded by more lenient pot laws. Recreational use is legal in Canada, Washington, Oregon and Nevada; medicinal use is legal in Montana.
l Last November, Utah voters approved a medicinal marijuana initiative by nearly 53 percent.
The trick, however, is getting a marijuana reform measure on the Idaho ballot.
Pro-marijuana initiative efforts failed to get enough signatures in 2012 and 2014. A proposed ballot measure was withdrawn in 2016. And in 2018, Idaho was among only three states — along with South Dakota and Wyoming — where a marijuana reform measure of some kind was not introduced.
The fact is getting a measure on the Idaho ballot — and then getting it passed — is much easier if the Legislature is the foil.
There would have been no Fish and Game Commission initiative in 1938 if lawmakers had respected the public’s desire to limit the role of politics in wildlife management.
If lawmakers had embraced transparency in how they raise and spend campaign contributions, voters would not have risen up and passed the Sunshine law in 1974.
It was the Legislature’s neglect of the beleaguered homeowner that fueled passage of the 1 Percent Initiative in 1978 and the homeowner’s exemption in 1982. Once lawmakers addressed property taxes, however, subsequent tax limitation initiatives failed in 1992 and 1996.
When lawmakers reneged on negotiations with the state’s Indian tribes, voters approved a gaming initiative in 2002.
The Legislature’s arrogant passage of the anti-teacher Luna laws in the face of widespread public opposition in 2011 led to voters rejecting the package the following year.
And as everyone knows, six years of legislative refusal to expand Medicaid galvanized voters into passing Prop. 2.
Nothing motivates Idahoans to launch and pass a ballot measure quite like having their elected officials in Boise belittle them.
Until now, pot advocates could not tap into a simmering grievance against the Legislature.
Talk about good timing. The Legislature’s misbehavior this year has riled up a lot of people.
Nothing would send a message to a bunch of calcified conservative politicians quite like bringing their legalized pot bogey man to life. Wouldn’t that be ironic? — M.T.