A $420 minimum fine for tiny amount of pot is no joke. Idaho lawmaker should know better | Opinion

It seems odd that Idaho Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, would propose a bill that could disproportionately affect low-income residents in his Nampa district.

But that’s what he’s done.

Perhaps Skaug thought he was being clever by proposing a bill that would impose a mandatory minimum $420 fine for anyone caught with 3 ounces or less of marijuana.

The 420 reference is slang for marijuana use, of course.

Skaug showed how unserious of a legislator he is by making several marijuana puns when he introduced the bill.

Perhaps Skaug doesn’t realize that the wealthy North End family whose kid gets caught with a joint is better able to pay a $420 fine than, say, a poor family in North Nampa.

Perhaps Skaug just doesn’t think about these things before he writes legislation.

As the Idaho Statesman’s Ian Max Stevenson reported this week, while other states across the country and most states surrounding Idaho are passing laws legalizing marijuana in various forms, Idaho legislators are proudly moving in the opposite direction, particularly with this new proposal to set a minimum fine for possession of the smallest amounts of marijuana.

We understand many people’s opposition to the legalization of marijuana, and Idaho legislators like Skaug are pleased to be the remaining holdouts to an overwhelming national movement.

As Skaug put it, this bill is “building a wall around the state of Idaho.”

Every state surrounding Idaho except Wyoming has passed some form of marijuana legalization, even Utah.

But many of us believe that in due time, the prohibition of marijuana is going to seem as silly and wasteful as alcohol prohibition of the 1920s.

At the very least, polls show strong support among residents for legalizing medical marijuana. A 2022 poll commissioned by the Idaho Statesman found that 68% of respondents thought cannabis should be legal for medical purposes.

Support for legalized recreational marijuana is approaching a majority, at 48%, while 41% of Idahoans thought the drug should remain illegal, according to the same poll. But 85% of respondents said they don’t think people should be jailed for possessing a “small amount” of weed. A total of 43% said a fine would be appropriate for small amounts, but the size of the fine wasn’t specified.

The number of those accepting of marijuana will only increase, as you can see the level of acceptance increase among younger poll respondents.

In all, 53% of respondents 18-34 said recreational marijuana should be legal, and 58% of respondents 35-49 said so.

The numbers will only go up, as states continue to legalize marijuana and discover that the world isn’t ending, despite the unfounded fears of legislators like Skaug.

Without backing up his claim, Skaug said traffic deaths have increased in states that have legalized the drug.

But that claim appears to be at least partially false, according to recent studies of the statistics.

One study of traffic crashes in Washington state actually found that recreational cannabis legalization led to fewer fatal and serious injury collisions in the three years after recreational marijuana was legalized.

Another study by Quartz Advisor, a global business news site, showed that from 2016-19, the average traffic fatality rate in states that legalized cannabis in 2016 fell at a rate of 11.6%. Meanwhile, states that had not legalized saw a slight increase of 1.7% from 2016 to 2019.

A similar study by the Canadian Institute of Actuaries found no significant statistical changes in average cost per insurance claim or claim frequency after marijuana legalization in Canada. An analysis of the U.S. statistics showed similar findings.

In other words, the sky isn’t falling, and Skaug’s warning about traffic fatalities doesn’t hold water.

Further, dozens of crime sentences in Idaho are left to the discretion of judges and prosecutors. That’s the way it should be.

Such crimes as reckless driving, inattentive driving, driving under the influence and serving alcohol to a minor don’t carry any sort of similar mandatory minimum punishment or fine.

Why should possession of marijuana be treated so differently?

Skaug’s bill should go up in smoke.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members Mary Rohlfing and Patricia Nilsson.