GRANT — U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo said Thursday he opposes legalizing marijuana but thinks the federal government needs to figure out whether banks can serve marijuana businesses in states where it is legal.
“There are serious questions that I have recognized need to get resolved,” Crapo said at a town hall in Grant, an unincorporated community near Rigby. “I am looking at that issue on a federal level.”
A majority of states have legalized either medicinal or recreational marijuana; Idaho, Nebraska and South Dakota are the only states where no forms of cannabis, including the non-psychoactive cannabidiol oil, are legal. Crapo, a Republican, is the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, which held a hearing last month on a bill to let banks serve marijuana businesses.
Banks currently cannot work with marijuana businesses since marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Crapo said this forces marijuana businesses in states where it’s legal to deal in cash and can help foster other illegal activities. However, Crapo reiterated his personal opposition to legalization.
“I don’t believe Idaho should legalize marijuana in any context,” he said, prompting state Rep. Jerald Raymond, R-Menan, who had asked the question, to thank him. “As far as the decisions that Idahoans are making, I think Idahoans should keep Idaho right where it is.”
The Senate is in recess until September, and Crapo has a series of town halls and public appearances in Idaho scheduled over the next few days and in early September. He was in northern Idaho earlier this week. After a couple of stops in Bingham County earlier on Friday, he is scheduled to hold a couple of town halls in unincorporated communities in Power and Cassia counties on Friday and Saturday.
Crapo held town halls in all of Idaho’s 200 or so incorporated cities in 2015 and 2016. He said his goal now is to hold one in each of Idaho’s unincorporated communities. Grant was his 41st, he said.
“I not only get to learn about the history of so many great places, but I get to meet the great people,” he said.
The town hall was at the pavilion of the Grant Park. The mostly supportive audience of about 20 people asked a range of questions on issues including abortion, tariffs and the difficulties many contractors face in finding workers.
Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, who represents the district in the state House along with Raymond, blamed the Affordable Care Act for driving up health care costs in Idaho.
“If anything is holding the Idaho economy back, it’s health care,” Furniss said.
Furniss called for more state control over Medicaid.
“If we had a block grant in Idaho we could manage so much better than having the federal government tell us what to do,” Furniss said.
Idaho voters voted in 2018 to expand Medicaid coverage to everyone making up to 138 percent of the poverty level. For several years before that, attempts at expansion had died due to Republican opposition in the Legislature. Lawmakers approved funding for it this year but also passed a bill to apply for waivers to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to make several changes to it, including adding work requirements. It remains to be seen which waivers will be approved.
Crapo said he has talked to CMS officials about approving waivers to give states more flexibility but has run into opposition. He attributed part of it to Obama-era appointees still occupying some positions at CMS and part of it to CMS Administrator Seema Verma, who was appointed by President Trump, believing she is legally restricted from approving certain waivers.
“She wants to do it, but she doesn’t think she has the legal authority,” she said. “I actually think she could do it.”
A bill that would have repealed the ACA and made numerous changes, including the block grants Furniss supports, passed the House in 2017 back when Republicans held the majority but failed in the Senate by a single vote. Crapo lamented the failure of this bill and said he doesn’t see much chance for progress on health care policy with a Democratic House and with many Democrats in favor of expanding the government role in health care.
“Obamacare was a step toward complete socialized medicine, and that’s what the battle is right now,” Crapo said.
Crapo started the town hall by presenting an American flag to the family of Kent Swanson, a Shelley police sergeant who died from a heart attack last year while responding to a call.
“We want you to know that we support you,” Crapo said. “We have a deep appreciation for Kent’s service and for our law enforcement.”