When Hailey voters go to the polls next week they'll have an opportunity to light up a whole new Rocky Mountain high.
Thanks to an activist who doesn't live there, voters will be asked to cast ballots on four separate but related measures that aim to legalize marijuana use in the Blaine County ski town. If they approve any or all, city and state officials will be handed a difficult and potentially expensive legal problem of how to interpret the will of the people when the people want to do something that is clearly illegal everywhere else.
The initiatives, if approved by voters, would give the city the following directions:
• Allow sale of cannabis in limited use for adults. Sales would be taxed and regulated - like those of tobacco and alcohol - with the city keeping the revenue.
• Exempt patients with doctor recommendations for medicinal marijuana from any law enforcement punishment.
• Establish a policy favorable to the growing of industrial hemp.
• Make personal use of marijuana the city's "lowest law enforcement priority."
Each measure would also create a community panel to help the city push for decriminalization at the state level.
The initiatives were brought by Ryan Davidson, a 30-year-old native of Canada who now lives in Garden City and works as a "patient-safety attendant" at Saint Alphonsus hospital in Boise. Davidson said he's driven by libertarian principles - not a desire to encourage recreational drug use - and that he chose four measures instead of one because voters value different things.
"The overall goal is to send a message to legislators that this is what city of Hailey residents want," he said. Asked if the measures are essentially legalizing marijuana, Davidson said "right, right."
Davidson lived in Hailey for a few months in 2004. He said he chose Hailey for his ballot measures because the resort town - more liberal than most in Idaho - was one of the "easiest places" to get on the ballot.
Under Idaho law, citizens can get questions on a ballot by collecting petition signatures equal to 20 percent of the turnout in the most recent election in that jurisdiction. Hailey's 2005 election had only candidates who were unopposed, leading to an election in which only 85 people voted in a town with a population of nearly 7,000.
That means Davidson needed just 17 signatures on his petition.
Dean Rutherford, a Hailey chiropractor and supporter of Davidson, said Wood River Valley residents are "contemporary thinkers" who understand laws against marijuana are a waste of taxpayers' money. Neither he nor Davidson said they use marijuana themselves.
"It's not that there are more marijuana smokers up here that want to smoke pot legally without interferences. That's the least of the reasons for these initiatives," said Rutherford, who lives outside the city in Blaine County and thus cannot vote in the election. "It's more political. It's more health reasons. It's more societal."
Still, it's unclear how much support Davidson's ballot measure enjoys. Davidson said he hasn't received money for the cause and that his group, the Liberty Lobby of Idaho, is "four or five people."
Three years ago, Davidson submitted pro-marijuana measures on the ballot in Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey, but the cities rejected them. Last year, the Idaho Supreme Court found that cities must consider a petition even if the initiatives could be illegal because the courts and voters hold the power to check initiatives.
But should any of the initiatives pass, Hailey could be thrust into a world of legal troubles, primarily because cities cannot overrule state code or federal law - both of which make the provisions of the ballot measures illegal.
City officials cite four potential problem scenarios: the City Council could rescind the ordinance; the city could challenge it in court; a private citizen could challenge it; or the office of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden could become involved.
"Municipalities do not have the authority to repeal state or federal criminal laws," said Kriss Cloyd, a spokeswoman for the attorney general. "Under state and federal laws, possession of marijuana is a crime."
Hailey City Attorney Ned Williamson said the initiatives bear a "lack of clarity." Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter said that if the measure passed he plans to confer with city officials and Williamson before deciding what to do.
"I doubt we'd do anything that's contrary to state law," he said. "This is probably an issue that's going to be litigated quite a bit before we get to that point."
Davidson said he knows there's potential for a legal battle, including one he might initiate if the city redacts ordinances that stem from his measures. He said that it is possible law enforcement agencies or the attorney general might take action "but what the state's going to do, exactly, I don't know."
Jared S. Hopkins can be reached at 735-3204 or email@example.com.