A north Idaho lawmaker wants to legalize medical marijuana as a means of helping residents deal with illnesses with chronic pain.

Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, has been working on the issue for about two years and plans to introduce legislation in the 2011 session. Before that happens, he’ll be able to gauge what other Idaho Republicans think of the idea at the party’s convention next week in Idaho Falls, when he floats a proposed resolution to delegates.

Fifteen states, including Montana, Washington, Oregon and Nevada, have laws allowing medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The way Trail sees it, medical marijuana should be strictly limited to those who need it for conditions with chronic pain, like cancer. Those eligible for prescriptions could only get up to two ounces every 28 days.

Under Trail’s proposal, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare would have a lead role in regulating medical marijuana, and handle applications and background checks for people wanting to operate an “alternative treatment center.”

And just because it’s marijuana doesn’t necessarily mean that patients would be smoking joints.

“There are various ways to take medical marijuana,” said Trail. “Most of the doctors are prescribing taking it in a vapor.”

Another option would be putting it in a food form, such as “marijuana-laced cookies,” Trail said.

The legislator admits it’s a proposal that will face intense scrutiny.

“Controversial legislation takes time,” he said, adding that the proposal would not allow marijuana use in public.

Tom Shanahan, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said the debate over medical marijuana will be for the Legislature and governor to decide. He noted that the department would need funding to get a registry and permitting system set up.

In Blaine County, there’s an openness toward medical marijuana. Hailey Mayor Rick Davis has said efforts to curb marijuana use on private property will be the local police force’s lowest priority.

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Davis’ announcement came after residents passed pro-marijuana initiatives: One to allow medical marijuana, another to legalize industrial hemp and a third to make enforcement of anti-pot laws the lowest priority for Hailey police.

A citizen panel, the Marijuana Oversight Committee, has been debating how to respond to voters’ wishes and still uphold state laws.

Davis told the Hailey City Council the decision to make pot smoking on private property the lowest police priority wasn’t easy, but it represents something that “works for those on both sides of this issue.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ben Botkin may be reached at bbotkin@magicvalley.com or 735-3238.

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