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Surrounding states have legalized marijuana. Idaho lawmaker suggests this instead

Despite legalization adjacent to Idaho’s borders and in many states around the country, Idaho lawmakers are considering heightened penalties for people charged with marijuana possession.

House Bill 606 would add a mandatory minimum fine of $420 for possession of less than three ounces of the plant, and a misdemeanor conviction.

Idaho law already has penalties for trafficking marijuana, or for possessing any amounts of the drug. Carrying less than three ounces of pot is a misdemeanor, with penalties of up to $1,000 (with no minimum) and a year in jail. Being caught with larger amounts of the drug could result in potential imprisonment of up to five years or a $10,000 fine. Idaho law also has mandatory minimum sentences for felony trafficking of marijuana, with minimum one-year prison terms and $5,000 fines for possessing one pound or more; minimum three-year prison terms and $10,000 fines for five pounds or more; and five years plus a $15,000 fine for possessing 25 pounds or more.

Sponsor Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, told a legislative committee earlier this month that he doesn’t think the penalties for having small amounts of the drug are harsh enough.

“A lot of judges are just giving them a traffic ticket fine, it’s all over the board,” he said, adding that his bill is part of “building a wall around the state of Idaho.”

“No, pot will not be legal in our state,” he said, noting that a judge he spoke with last summer requested a $500 fine, but he thought $420 was more appropriate. The number “420” is widely associated with marijuana use and culture, and April 20 is viewed by some users as a holiday.

Though Skaug presented a version of his marijuana bill earlier this month, he introduced a new version Tuesday with a wording change to allow for the $420 fine to be in addition to any other penalties allowed under the law, he told the committee.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said at the hearing that he thought the mandatory penalty would be inappropriate.

“You’ve got a lot more alcohol abuse going on in this state than you do marijuana abuse,” Gannon said. “It seems like you want to pick on one group, and there’s never anything to address the other group that is abusing alcohol.”

As of November, 24 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for adults, according to the Rockefeller Institute. That includes every state that borders Idaho except for Wyoming, where it is illegal, and Utah, where only medical marijuana use is legal.

The stimulant can be legally purchased in Ontario, Oregon – less than an hour’s drive from Boise.

In states with medical marijuana, the substance can be prescribed by a doctor to treat a variety of conditions, including chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, severe nausea and Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Some state lawmakers have previously tried to legalize medical marijuana without success, and citizens groups have tried to bring the issue to voters through a ballot measure, most recently in 2022. Each ballot initiative effort so far has failed.

Jackee Winters pushed to legalize prescription marijuana three years ago. Her 27-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 14, and Winters was recovering from an auto accident that killed her 2-year-old daughter. “I think we need to change the rules: It’s time,” she told a reporter in 2021.
Jackee Winters pushed to legalize prescription marijuana three years ago. Her 27-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 14, and Winters was recovering from an auto accident that killed her 2-year-old daughter. “I think we need to change the rules: It’s time,” she told a reporter in 2021.

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 was less, at 48%, and 42% 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.