Idaho medical cannabis initiative is given second thought after federal judge ruling

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A group of cannabis activists in Idaho are hopeful that their medical cannabis legalization initiative will be reconsidered for a separate ballot campaign. The news comes after a federal judge rules that the state is obligated to accommodate activists at Reclaim Idaho in their efforts, due to COVID-19-related delays in signature-gathering.

Activists have made a formal request urging the state to permit electronic signature collections for a medical cannabis legalization initiative in Idaho. Although the Idaho Cannabis Coalition doesn’t have a say on the situation, pro-cannabis lobbyists in the state are confident that the federal judge ruling will apply to Reclaim Idaho’s campaign.

“We at the Idaho Cannabis Coalition and all the supporters of the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act are thrilled that our partners in the initiative process, the Reclaim Idaho petition, have succeeded in showing that the state has violated our rights when it comes to petitioning,” said a spokesperson. “We are hopeful that the ruling in their favor will also apply to us and that we will be able to do electronic signature gathering and be on the ballot in November.”

A deadline of May 1 has been set by the group, which must gather a minimum of 55,057 signatures for Idaho’s medical cannabis initiative to pass. According to campaign spokesperson Russ Belville, Reclaim Idaho has already managed to accumulate 45,000 unverified signatures. The convenience of an electronic signature gathering option, he says, is sure to appeal to the many Idahoans who support legalization.

An overview of Idaho’s 2020 medical cannabis initiative

Currently, the Idaho Medical Marijuana Initiative is not expected to be featured on the November 3 ballot as an initiated state statute. However, things could change if lobbyists get their way.

Based on details of the proposed measure to legalize medical cannabis in Idaho, the initiative would grant patients an opportunity to receive recommendations from licensed physicians. However, individuals would only be able to receive recommendations if they qualify for one of the medical conditions listed on the state’s eligibility criteria.

Those who are approved to receive medical cannabis recommendations under Idaho’s proposed initiative would be legally allowed to possess a maximum of your ounces of the plant and cultivate up to six of their own plants.

“Initiative establishing medical [cannabis] program for qualifying patients and protect participants from criminal prosecution and civil sanction,” read the short ballot title. Conversely, the long ballot title read as follows:

“An initiative relating to medical [cannabis]; amending Title 39, Idaho Code, by addition of a new Chapter 97, known as the “Idaho Medical Marijuana Act” to protect from arrest, criminal and civil sanction, patients who have chronic diseases or conditions or are terminally ill, and caregivers, growers, and agents of medical [cannabis] organizations who may possess or cultivate [cannbis] for medical purposes; establish a registry of qualifying patients, caregivers, growers, and agents who shall be issued registry identification cards; establish production facilities, safety compliance facilities and dispensaries which shall be issued registration certificates; to authorize production of [cannabis]; establish the maximum amount of [cannabis] qualifying patients and caregivers per assisted patient may possess is four (4) ounces of usable marijuana and six (6) [cannabis] plants if issued a registry identification card allowing cultivation; establish reporting rules and penalties; to provide the department shall submit an annual report to the Idaho Legislature; provide information regarding names and other identifying information of persons who have been issued or applied for a registry Identification card, pursuant to Chapter 97, Title 39, Idaho Code is exempt from disclosure.[3]   

Reclaim Idaho spokesperson says stay-at-home order infringed on constitutional rights

When the governor ordered people to stay at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it immediately put a spanner in the works for Idaho’s medical cannabis legalization initiative. Social distancing measures made it impossible for lobbyists to walk the streets and collect signatures for their initiative. 

Stay-at-home orders “infringed on our constitutional rights under the Idaho constitution to have the requisite 180 days of petition gathering. The way we look at it is that if it applies to Reclaim Idaho, it’s got to apply to us and the other petition was out there. We’ll see how it works out, but we’re really hopeful,” Belville said in regards to the federal judge court ruling about signature-gathering. 

Nonetheless, the state announced it would be attempting to overthrow the court ruling. In the event that this happens and the state is successful in its efforts to rescind the existing ruling, the process of gathering signatures could be postponed for the rest of the year.