HAILEY — Marijuana policy is mostly controlled by the state and federal governments, but it does come up occasionally in city elections too.
In Twin Falls, Robert Hinkle ran for City Council in 2011 advocating the city adopt a policy similar to one Hailey had a year before, making marijuana use on private property the lowest police priority. And Larry Houser, who ran for the Twin Falls Council in 2015 and is running again in 2017, also supports liberalizing marijuana laws.
It’s also come up in state legislative races — legalizing medical marijuana was a top issue for Dale Varney, the Democrat who ran against Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, in 2014 and 2016. There’s a chance it could be even more of an issue in the 2nd District congressional race — Peter Rickards, of Twin Falls, the only Democrat so far to declare his intent to run against Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, is a drug legalization supporter. He was arrested on marijuana charges in 2013; his campaign website even features his mugshot, smiling in an orange jail jumpsuit.
But at the local level, the issue has received the most attention in the City of Hailey, where the city itself went to court to overturn the pro-pot initiatives its voters approved a decade ago.
In November 2007, Hailey voters approved initiatives to legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp, and to make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest police priority. They rejected one that would have legalized recreational use and required the city to regulate sales. The initiatives were the brainchild of Ryan Davidson, a libertarian who lived in Garden City.
City officials said the ballot initiatives conflicted with federal and state laws making marijuana illegal. After the ballot initiatives won, the City Council stalled for a while, then several city officials sued the city claiming the initiatives were illegal. That put City Attorney Ned Williamson, who also believed they were illegal, in the position of defending the city and the initiatives. Voters, however, re-passed the same three initiatives in May 2008.
Fifth District Judge Robert Elgee sided with the city officials over the voters, declaring most of the three initiatives illegal, upholding only the parts saying the city must advocate for reform and create a committee to study marijuana and hemp issues.
However, in 2010 the city did adopt a policy saying marijuana use on private property would be the police department’s lowest priority. The policy is still in effect. Assistant Police Chief Dave Stellers said Hailey police don’t look for marijuana use in private settings, although he said he doesn’t think their approach differs too much from other police departments in Idaho.
“Basically, your property is your property, a man’s home is his castle,” Stellers said. “We’re not really looking and never have looked for … personal marijuana in their house.”