TWIN FALLS • With recreational marijuana legal or nearly so in four western states, pro-pot activists in Idaho say it’s time to make another push for legalization here.
But even increased recreational marijuana use in eastern Oregon will affect Idaho law enforcement, one sheriff predicts.
Pot becomes legal July 1 in Oregon, in late February in Alaska and likely later in the spring in Washington, D.C. It’s already legal in Colorado and Washington state.
A ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho got only 406 verified signatures earlier this year.
Meanwhile, backers of a drive to legalize and tax marijuana in Nevada say they turned in nearly 200,000 signatures supporting their measure.
Their initiative would require Nevada legislators to consider legalizing marijuana or automatically put the question on the November 2016 ballot.
The now-defunct Compassionate Idaho advocated for medical marijuana in the past, and other groups have supported legal industrial hemp production. Now New Approach Idaho will advocate for full legalization.
The group will try to gather signatures for a ballot initiative, but it first wants to educate the public, said Serra Frank, now of New Approach and formerly with Compassionate Idaho.
The group needs to obtain petition signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in each county for the initiative to get on a ballot. Frank said that will be an uphill battle in some counties.
“I can’t give an estimate on when we’re ready to start gathering,” Frank said. “We’ll start when we feel our voices are loud enough.”
New Approach will invite legislators to awareness rallies and town hall meetings across Idaho, she said.
“Our representatives still need to know what the people are wanting.”
In the 2013 session, Idaho lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing legalization of marijuana “for any purpose in the state of Idaho.”
But Frank said the toll that marijuana laws have on people is worse than what might happen if it were legal.
“The gateway theory is out the window,” she said. “I don’t use heroin. I use marijuana. I choose it over pharmaceuticals.”
A 2010 survey by Boise State University’s Public Policy Center showed that 74 percent of Idaho respondents supported medical marijuana for very ill or terminally ill patients.
Any supporters of legalization should contact the group, Frank said. “We want to give them an opportunity to change (the law) if they really want to change it.”
Twin Falls Police Capt. Anthony Barnhart said it would be difficult to show a correlation between marijuana arrests in the city and legalization in other states. Over the years, though, city arrests haven’t fluctuated much, he said.
So far this year, the department has made 128 misdemeanor marijuana arrests, meaning a person had less than 3 ounces. Police made 181 arrests in all of 2013 and 124 in 2012.
“Police don’t make the laws,” Barnhart said. “We enforce the laws that the people of Idaho tell us to through their legislators.”
In March, Darien Roseen filed a lawsuit against Idaho State Police and law enforcement officials in Fruitland and Payette County.
Roseen had been returning from his daughter’s baby shower in Washington state to his home in Pagosa Springs, Colo., when he was detained and his vehicle searched, allegedly because of his Colorado license plate. Nothing illegal was found in his car.
Although ISP won’t be a defendant, because it has immunity, a trial likely will be scheduled next year in U.S. District Court in Boise, court documents show.
Barnhart said it’s unlikely that travelers from neighboring states will be needlessly stopped.
“We have to have probable cause before we make a traffic stop,” he said.
Capt. Robert Storm, of the ISP district covering the Magic Valley, said his office hasn’t begun discussing what Oregon’s legalization could mean for Idaho.
“It doesn’t take effect till next July,” he said. “It’s just too far away.”
But Jerome County Sheriff Doug McFall said, “If there’s a significant increase in recreational use in the eastern side of Oregon, without a doubt it will influence law enforcement in Idaho, especially counties close to the border.”
McFall said legalization elsewhere isn’t likely to increase local marijuana activity, though it might increase what troopers see on the interstates.
Having easier access to legal marijuana might affect where people get their pot, though, he said.
Jerome County sees expensive marijuana from Canada and cheaper stuff from Mexico, he said. U.S. grown marijuana could increase in popularity.
A few years ago, deputies found significant marijuana grow-sites in Jerome County cornfields. After a crackdown, those growers left, McFall said.
The Idaho Sheriffs Association opposes legalization of recreational marijuana use, McFall said, but opinions differ on whether exceptions should be made for medical marijuana.
But Frank said, “It’s time for Idaho to start catching up.”