Opinion: Legalizing marijuana would boost Idaho economy, minimize incarcerations

Photo courtesy of Michael Fischer

The legalization, decriminalization and use of marijuana has been a largely debated topic over the past several years, especially in Idaho. 

With most of our surrounding states having legalized recreational and/or medical marijuana, I have often posed the question when rather than if it will happen here, too. Out of the eleven West Coast states, Idaho remains the only state that has not legalized any form of marijuana usage.

The marijuana legalization advocacy non-profit Legalize the Idaho Way estimated that Oregon sold over $4 billion worth of marijuana products in the five years since its legalization. In September 2021 alone, sales reached over $95 million.

Additionally, a lot of sales in Ontario come from Idahoans traveling from the Boise area. In fact, the press release stated that Idahoans bought almost $200 million worth of products from Ontario. 

Marijuana plant
[Photo of a marijuana plant]
Photo courtesy of Michael Fischer

Russ Belville, the chief petitioner of the Personal Adult Marijuana Decriminalization Act (PAMDA) and president of Legalize the Idaho Way, said in an Oct. 6 press release that it’s both futile and frivolous to try to keep marijuana out of Idaho.

“It’s clear that some Idahoans like marijuana,” Belville said. “What they don’t like is being treated like criminals, fearing that their trip back from Oregon is going to get them arrested.” 

This fear is especially worrisome for the Black community, who have been largely mistreated and targeted when it comes to marijuana-related arrests.

Though I’m not an economics major or expert by any means, it seems to me that if we want to boost our state’s economy — or further, our nation’s economy — legalizing the recreational use of marijuana would be a great option. 

However, that is much easier said than done. Conservatives and Republicans in Idaho have consistently attacked any measures to legalize medical or recreational marijuana. 

Back in February, an amendment was passed in the Idaho Senate by one vote to “make it impossible for citizens to legalize medical or recreational marijuana ─ or any other psychoactive drugs not approved for use by the federal Food and Drug Administration.” 

Thankfully, the amendment died on the house floor to a 42-28 vote, having needed 47 votes to pass. Still, it is clear that a large portion of Idaho politicians have no intentions to support the legalization of marijuana in any form. 

Legalize the Idaho Way has another idea on how to lessen the restrictions on marijuana usage in Idaho. Because our lawmakers have consistently been against legalizing marijuana, Legalize the Idaho Way has detailed a different way to “legalize” recreational marijuana. The PAMDA act would lessen Idaho’s restrictions on marijuana usage while still maintaining some strict guidelines. 

According to the website, the guidelines suggested include: marijuana must be purchased out-of-state at a legal marijuana shop; marijuana may only be transported in its sealed childproof containers with proof of purchase; marijuana may only be used and stored on private property with permission of the owner; marijuana must be transported directly from the legal marijuana shop to private property. 

The website also says that outside of these parameters (and the others listed on the site), marijuana would remain illegal. 

Legalize the Idaho Way has created a new path to not only lessen restrictions but also ease Idahoans into the idea of legalizing marijuana. 

While I believe that full decriminalization and legalization at the federal and state level is still the ideal situation, I have come to understand that due to Idaho’s political climate, that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

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