Medical cannabis proposal flunks the freedom test

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The Idaho Legislature hasn’t acted to fix the state’s strict cannabis prohibition even as the state ensnares otherwise innocent people in its zero-tolerance net. Interstate truck drivers hauling hemp from legal farm to legal farm face life-altering criminal penalties at the hands of Idaho law enforcement and prosecutors.

Every day, sickly Idahoans—sufferers of depression, elderly with arthritis, cancer patients who can’t keep their food down, epileptic kids—risk trips across the state line to get the one thing that helps them treat their symptoms. But, alas, the medical marijuana initiative being shopped by petition signature-gatherers isn’t a much better option than politicians sitting on their hands and doing nothing. 

It should be easy for me to find a ray of sunshine in the proposal, having spent the last several years arguing that Idaho should rethink its marijuana laws. However, from start to finish, over the span of 16 pages, the initiative manages to pile up disappointments. The measure would place a four percent tax on cannabis and then, as a cynical effort to attract voter support, splits the money evenly between the Division of Veterans Services and the state general fund so that backers can claim it’s all about veterans while also claiming it will benefit public schools. That four-percent tax would be in addition to the state’s six-percent general sales tax. 

The initiative gives extraordinary powers to the state Department of Health and Welfare. The measure would limit the number of conditions for which a patient can use marijuana as a treatment, then the agency would be empowered to sit in judgment of what additional conditions, if any, should be added to the state’s list of cannabis-treated ailments. Why the initiative’s backers chose to trust government employees over medical practitioners is beyond me, but that’s not all. The state department, which has a long and storied history of underestimating how much Medicaid will cost taxpayers annually, would get to determine the suitability of business plans for medical marijuana dispensaries and production facilities. The measure would even grant the agency unlimited power to investigate would-be Idaho cannabis businesses and their officers. 

For some reason, the initiative restricts private property rights, telling landlords, hospitals, and care facilities that they may not deny or restrict housing for people who are registered medical cannabis cardholders. Caregivers would be restricted to only being able to treat up to three patients with cannabis. If passed, the initiative would interfere with the employer-employee relationship, denying businesses the ability to thoroughly consider marijuana use as a factor in employment. In other words, for a proposal that purports to be about liberty, it infringes as much, or more, as it liberates. 

Some will no doubt argue that any reduction in the government’s cannabis prohibition is a step in the right direction. They’ll also argue that any broken components of the initiative could easily be fixed by state lawmakers should voters give their blessing to the proposition in November 2020. But I look at an initiative through the same lens as the Idaho Freedom Foundation examines all legislation on the Idaho Freedom Index, the foundation’s legislative report card. Here, initiative backers begin by ceding too much power to the government and infringing on freedom in the process. 

Given that Idaho is already surrounded by states with legal cannabis, and given the fact that some dispensaries are a short drive away from Idaho’s border communities, it would be better for Idahoans to refuse to sign the initiative. They should reject it if it makes it to the ballot box, sickly Idahoans should keep buying medicinal cannabis elsewhere, and wait for the Legislature to get its act together enough to decriminalize medicinal cannabis without all the additional, costly, and unnecessary government interference.