BOISE — First-time offenders who possess a half-ounce or less of marijuana in Idaho would face only an infraction, rather than the current misdemeanor charge, under bipartisan legislation introduced in a House committee on Monday.

Legislature 2019

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, is co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls. Last year, Gannon co-sponsored a similar measure with then-Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol. This year’s version includes a technical change to address concerns brought up in a two-hour House Judiciary Committee hearing last year; instead of reducing the charge from a misdemeanor to an infraction prior to conviction, the bill would have the judge make that change only post-conviction.

The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to introduce the bill, clearing the way for a full hearing. The new infraction charge would carry penalties of four hours of drug abuse education and either a $250 fine or eight hours of community service.

The new bill would apply only to those with no prior conviction for any drug-related offense, anywhere. Current Idaho law makes possession of 3 ounces or less of marijuana a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. Possession of larger amounts is a felony, carrying up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.