Rigby-based group opposes medical marijuana legalization

Russ Belville

A Rigby-based group is pushing to halt a petition that would put legalizing medical marijuana on the ballot for the 2020 election in Idaho.

Idahoans for Healthy Kids and Communities (IHKC) started this year in response to a proposed ballot initiative, group spokesperson Tim Allen said.

That initiative, filed by members of the Idaho Cannabis Coalition toward the end of June, would put marijuana legalization on the 2020 Idaho ballot. The Secretary of State announced the initiative cleared for signature gathering Aug. 9. To qualify for the November 2020 ballot, 55,057 registered voters will have to sign the petition by April 30, 2020.

Allen said he thinks IHKC has about 80 members total across the state, but said most members are located in eastern Idaho.

“It was in response to a proposal to legalize, at this point, medical marijuana,” Allen said. “And that’s how they operated in California too, ‘We just want medical marijuana, it’ll never be more than that.’”

Allen said he and his family recently moved from California and did not like the results of fully legalized marijuana. He said the process of growing marijuana has harmed the natural areas around where he used to live.

“From an environmental point of view, it’s just been disastrous out there,” Allen said.

Allen said marijuana, which is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is not the best option for people with medical issues.

“There are other alternatives to folks,” he said. “There’s FDA-approved alternatives to people who have conditions that these folks say are improved by it.”

Russ Belville, spokesperson for the Idaho Cannabis Coalition, said for him, legalizing marijuana in Idaho is personal.

“Idaho’s always prided itself on being an island in a sense, and that’s fine with me if we’re talking about gun regulation or voting for your own dog catcher, but when we’re talking about killing my dad, I take it kind of personally,” he said.

Belville said his father, 77-year-old John Belville, has chronic peripheral neuropathy — a type of nerve damage that can cause numbness, pain and muscle weakness. Russ Belville said his father visited Oregon and found cannabis works better than opioids for his condition.

“(Opioids) are shutting down his organs and killing him,” Russ Belville said. “There’s thousands of people in Idaho just like my dad who could benefit from this medicine.”

Belville said marijuana would also give patients greater access to care, since they could grow the plant themselves.

“It’s a medicine you can produce yourself, you don’t have to have insurance, you don’t have to have a lot of money,” he said.

According to the proposed initiative, the Idaho law would allow patients and caregivers of patients to grow up to six plants in a locked facility. Patients without hardship would be able to possess four ounces of marijuana.

Allen said those restrictions are less strict than surrounding states. Belville said the initiative would place Idaho in the middle of the 33 states where medical marijuana is legal, as far as restrictions go.

Belville said he is confident the initiative will pass. Polling has shown the majority of Idahoans support medical marijuana but oppose recreational use.

State Rep. Jerald Raymond, R-Menan, said he has not looked into the details of the initiative, but is against the legalization of medical marijuana.

“I think the definition of medical marijuana is problematic to start with,” Raymond said. “Marijuana is not a medicine, it’s a drug. It’s a mind-altering drug.”

Legalizing medical marijuana in Idaho would mean health professionals would have to “figure out where that new drug’s place and role is in people’s therapy,” said Rebecca Hoover, an associate professor in Idaho State University’s College of Pharmacy.

Hoover said there is not as much clinical data on the drug, which would mean medical practitioners would need to use their best judgement. She said that is one downside of legalizing the drug. She said it would, however, open up treatment options for patients.

“I think it gives patients who have run out of a lot of other options another option,” she said.

Regardless, Hoover said health professionals would need to continue ensuring the safety of their patients as they do now.