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Hartgen: Nevada marijuana comes closer to southern Idaho
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A Conservative Perspective

Hartgen: Nevada marijuana comes closer to southern Idaho

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As long as there have been American colonies and then states, there’s been economic competition among them for supremacy in the sale of products. From liquor to auto sales to simple retailing, it’s common for states to joust with each other for cross-border traffic.

Idaho’s lottery sales in small towns bordering Utah attract ticket buyers from Utah hoping for a “big win” ticket. It may not be to Utah’s liking, but that’s the way it is under current law in each state.

Idaho has also been on the “downside” of these patterns. When Idaho banned casino gambling in the 1950s, the law virtually created the town of Jackpot, just across the Idaho-Nevada border, where many Idaho local license plates can be seen on any given evening.

The U.S. Constitution specifically directs disputes among states to the federal courts. In New Hampshire v. Maine, for example, 1977 and 2001 cases ultimately decided a long-running dispute that a mid-river port island between the two states was legally in Maine, and thus its workers were not taxable by New Hampshire.

So we shouldn’t expect the courts to rule against Nevada if there were a protest from Idaho that the opening of a marijuana recreational retail outlet in Jackpot. For many years, Oregon has had retail marijuana sales at Ontario, just across the Snake River from Idaho and convenient to the Treasure Valley’s population centers.

Everyone knows that a quick trip to Ontario to “score” marijuana is a legal sale there, but bringing it back into Idaho is illegal, though commonly done. So it’s doubtful that a marijuana sales outlet in Jackpot can be blocked by Idaho, except when users re-enter Idaho on U.S. 93, just a mile or two north of town, where Idaho law takes over.

But no one should doubt the local impact nonetheless, since Jackpot traffic comes heavily from southern Idaho residents.

Jackpot’s thinking is mostly about economics. Jackpot has been hurt by the COVID virus; fewer people going to casinos means less employment there, so they’re considering allowing marijuana sales as a revenue-raising and employment measure.

Yet it’s a fair question whether marijuana sales on Southern Idaho’s border is a good social move. The Elko County sheriff says Idaho law enforcement sees the issue as one of Nevada’s politics, not one of Idaho’s concern. (TN 9/2). That sends a clear signal, does it not, that Idaho may not set out to quash incoming traffic.

Still, the costs to Idaho by increased marijuana availability aren’t hard to spot: more drug arrests, jail expenses, law enforcement staffing, plus the well-established linkage of marijuana use to a host of other criminal and socially irresponsible behaviors.

Yea, we’ve heard all the arguments. Recreational marijuana use is a personal thing; it doesn’t affect anyone else; would open up “new” business, etc. But privately, law enforcement officers, social workers, medical professionals and educators will mostly tell you there’s an obvious link from marijuana use to other crimes.

Those arguments have lost resonance in today’s do-your-own-thing culture. So has a compliant media in which drug use is not considered at harmful and that those who oppose legalization and availability are just old foggies.

You don’t have to look far to see marijuana use as an underlying feature of many social and criminal activity. As part of its recent investigation, Oregon police learned last week that the antifa killer in the Portland shooting had sent a text message to his teenage son that read, “Sell me the gun for a quarter pound of weed and $100 I’m getting tired of this shxx. I need a piece now.” (Oregonian, 9/4). Interesting that the “teenage son” has both access to firearms and drugs. Such goes modern parenting.

Various legalization bills have been introduced in the Idaho Legislature in the recent past, and this past spring, out-of-state marijuana legalization lobbies poured tens of thousands of dollars into campaign support for so-called “libertarian” legislative candidates. (Idaho Conservatives website, 5/14). A significant block of Idaho “freedom” legislators apparently favor more availability. They, along with Idaho’s few liberal lawmakers, appear likely to introduce such a proposal in 2021. How is that good for Idaho?

The legal history of one state successfully opposing the actions of another does not favor Idaho in this scenario. But we shouldn’t be surprised that, if a marijuana retail shop opens in Jackpot, that there will be significant negative effects on southern Idaho. Welcome to the Brave New World of self-justification.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” He can be reached at


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