Idaho lacks a single piece of legislation acknowledging the medical value of cannabis, making it the only state in the country with total cannabis prohibition. In addition to denying patients access to medical marijuana and farmers' entrance into the burgeoning American hemp industry, Idaho’s cannabis prohibition disproportionately targets Black Idahoans.
The Idaho Office of Drug Policy Views Cannabis as a Threat to Public Health
Idaho law defines marijuana as “the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant.” Because of its classification as a Schedule I controlled substance under Idaho law, it is illegal to do any of the following:
- manufacture any form of cannabis
- deliver any form of cannabis
- possess any form of cannabis
- publicly use or be intoxicated by cannabis
A violation of Idaho’s cannabis law is considered a felony punishable by up to $25,000 and a prison sentence. Idaho’s conservative approach is unequivocally intolerant of recreational cannabis, and only slightly open to medical marijuana. As articulated by an Idaho Office of Drug Policy (ODP) 2017 statement, “The Governor’s Office of Drug Policy opposes legalization of marijuana in any form other than specific marijuana-based medications that have received FDA approval.” “In response to proposed legislation and ballot initiatives aimed at marijuana legalization, ODP finds it necessary, based on the current evidence, to advise against the legalization of marijuana as a public health and safety measure.” The ODP cites the increase of youth cannabis use, impaired driving, and poison control calls related to cannabis use in Washington State and Colorado as evidence that the benefits of cannabis legalization do not outweigh the risks or align with the ODP’s vision to keep “Idaho free from the devastating health, social and economic effects of substance abuse.”
Even CBD and Hemp are Banned Under Idaho’s Current Cannabis Laws
The ODP references the presence of THC in cannabis, explaining that as THC levels rise in cannabis products, the plant becomes increasingly addictive. However, Idaho’s law takes this to an extreme that prevents Idaho farmers from benefiting from the 2018 Farm Bill’s adjustments to hemp law. The federal Farm Bill removed cannabis containing .3% THC or less from the drug schedule, creating a federally legal avenue for farmers to cultivate hemp and manufacturers to process low-THC CBD products. However, individual states can choose to opt out of that avenue or make it less accessible. Idaho is one of those states. According to the ODP, the only way for CBD to be legally processed in Idaho is if it meets the following conditions:
- It must contain 0% THC. It cannot contain up to .3% THC.
- CBD must be derived from one of these 5 plant parts: the mature stalks of the plant, fiber produced from the stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds or achene of the cannabis plant, the sterilized seed of the plant, or any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the mature stalks.
The only legal cannabis medicine in Idaho is Epidiolex, pharmaceutical grade CBD available for prescription and covered by most insurance companies. There is conclusive evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms, but Idaho’s law prevents patients from accessing medical cannabis in any form other than Epidiolex. Agriculturally speaking, an Idaho House committee killed a bill that would have legalized hemp farming and transportation in Idaho. The bill passed in the senate, but anti-cannabis legislators worried that legalizing hemp cultivation would open the door to further cannabis legalization, and voted it down in early March. Idaho farmers largely supported the bill as it would have provided the Idaho agriculture industry with a way to diversify operations. Grocery stores in Idaho are stocked with hemp hearts, hemp flower, hemp beauty supplies, and more, but Idaho farmers are prohibited from entering the hemp industry under the state’s current law.
Idaho’s Cannabis Prohibition Widens Racial Disparities
The ODP’s vision to keep Idaho free from the impacts of substance abuse is noble, but the state must also reckon with its growing problem of mass incarceration. According to Prison Policy Initiative analysis, Idaho has an incarceration rate of 734 per 100,000 people, a rate that exceeds the United States, the United Kingdom, and Portugal. Idaho’s draconian cannabis laws entangle a disproportionate number of Black people into the criminal justice system. According to a 2020 ACLU report, Black people in Idaho are 3.9 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people. Even though Black people only make up 1% of the state population, they make up 3% of the prison population, an unsurprising outcome given that 3,252 Black people out of 100,000 are incarcerated in Idaho. Cannabis prohibition directly contributes to mass incarceration and structural inequality in Idaho, and it does this without stopping illicit cannabis use. In fact, cannabis arrests in Idaho were higher in 2015 than they were in 2014, and then higher still in 2016 than they were in 2015. If cannabis prohibition worked, those numbers would be decreasing. Instead, they are a clear indicator that cannabis prohibition is much more effective at disrupting communities and families (especially Black communities and families), than it is at reducing illicit cannabis use.
Will Cannabis Ever be Legal in Idaho?
Despite the state’s ultra-conservative position on cannabis legalization, the people of Idaho are largely supportive of legalizing cannabis. A 2019 poll found that 73% of Idahoans either strongly or somewhat support legalizing medical marijuana, though 57% are against legalizing recreational cannabis. Given the resistance Idaho’s legislature has exerted on cannabis reform, it seems like the state’s best shot at any type of cannabis legalization will happen on the ballot. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition collected 40,000 voter signatures out of the required 55,057 to place a medical marijuana initiative on the 2020 ballot before suspending the campaign due to Covid-19. The campaign will push to get the initiative placed on the 2022 ballot.