by Jamie Hale
A handful of protesters stood at the corner of Yellowstone Ave. and Alameda Rd. Wednesday evening in support of a potential medical marijuana bill in Idaho. Some argued for full legalization of the drug, while others supported only medical laws, but all agreed that the current restrictions are unfair.
“The laws were made out of fear, and there’s always prohibition, so when you’ve got laws that were made out of fear through prohibition, and poor education, those laws are going to be more strict,” said Lindsey Rinehart, a representative from Boise’s pro-medicinal marijuana group Compassionate Idaho.
Her organization is trying to gather support for the Idaho Medical Choice Act, a proposed bill that would legalize medicinal marijuana in the state. Rinehart said the organization needs about 50,000 signatures by April 30 to get the issue on the ballot. If it gets there, she’s convinced the majority of Idahoans would support the bill.
Despite at least one poll showing overwhelming public support, Idaho refuses to budge its strict marijuana laws. In fact, Idaho and Utah are the only states west of Texas that haven’t relaxed their laws. Between the two, Idaho is stricter and has many more restrictions. The penalty for being under the influence of marijuana in Idaho, for example, is up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
According to a 2011 Boise State University Public Policy Survey, 74 percent of Idahoans support the purchase of medicinal marijuana for terminally and seriously ill patients. Strangely enough, the same poll showed the population split evenly on whether or not people should be allowed to sell and manufacture the drug. That is one of many arguments the pro-marijuana groups hope will turn the tide in the state.
To Rinehart, the issue is personal. She suffers from multiple sclerosis and is currently taking Vicodin and morphine to curb the pain. That’s a problem, she said, because the drugs have serious side effects and are incredibly addictive. Marijuana, on the other hand, doesn’t come with the same chemical addiction or negative physical side effects, she said.
According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15,000 Americans die from overdoses on painkillers each year, while there have never been any reported deaths of overuse of marijuana. Rinehart said those facts alone should be enough to persuade people to support the bill.
Tina Manley, a protester who came from Blackfoot, said she already experienced medical marijuana for her back pain when she lived in Alaska. Her goals are just to get sick Idahoans feeling better. “Locally, I just want to see that people like myself, people like Lindsey, can take care of themselves properly the way they want to take care of themselves,” she said. “I want to be able to see people make the choice themselves.”
Both Manley and Rinehart agreed that one of the biggest issues is education. Too many people have misconceptions about medical marijuana and make snap judgments based on their views, they argued. “It’s not something that’s going to kill you, it’s not something that’s going to ruin your family,” said Manley. “A lot of people look at us and they think ‘Oh they’re just pot heads,’ and that’s not what this is about anymore.”
While time will tell whether or not the organization can gather enough support to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho, the protesters on Yellowstone are confident they have public opinion on their side.
Contact Jamie at JHaleTBA@Gmail.com