Legislature 2019

A proposed Idaho Senate bill to make it more difficult to qualify for a ballot initiative would apply to a recently filed cannabis legalization petition.

Last week, the Idaho Cannabis Coalition filed with the Secretary of State a citizen initiative to legalize medical cannabis and industrial hemp, via a 2020 ballot initiative. 

Meanwhile, legislation to make it more difficult to qualify for a ballot initiative is awaiting a vote in the Senate State Affairs Committee

Even though the cannabis petition was filed before the bill that would restrict such efforts made it out of committee, the petition will have to meet the proposed new requirements if the bill passes, according to the Secretary of State's communications coordinator Kristie Winslow. 

An emergency clause included in the bill would immediately enact the legislation, once it was signed by the governor. 

Unless the Idaho Cannabis Coalition could complete the lengthy petition review process with the Secretary of State and collect the required signatures before the new bill passes — which is not possible — the cannabis petition will have to meet the new requirements. 

But the new requirements to get an initiative on the ballot could be practically impossible, anyway. 

The current requirement to send an initiative to the ballot is signatures from 6 percent of the voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts. 

The proposed bill would up the requirement to 10 percent of the voters in 32 of the 35 legislative districts.

Bill Esbensen, an Idaho Cannabis Coalition spokesperson, called the new bill "clear tyranny." 

"It doesn’t matter if we had a marijuana initiative or an initiative to eliminate sales tax, it’s insane to me to make it harder for this process — almost impossible," he said. 

Esbensen said that it was not his, or the coalition's attorneys', understanding that the new bill would apply to the cannabis petition, considering it was already filed and the bill has yet to pass.  

He said ultimately it will be the courts' decision whether the bill would apply. 

"We’ll have to play it by ear and deal with our attorneys and see what the next step is," Esbensen said. "Hopefully, our legislators have open minds to democracy and democracy will prevail."

The bill had a hearing on Friday in the State Affairs Committee, where committee members heard testimony from about 60 people, most of them opposed to the legislation, the Associated Press reported

The committee decided to hold the bill in committee for now and will most likely vote on it next week, AP reported. 

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.