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Pot legalization, lawsuits and what Idaho can learn

On July 1, Oregon’s legalized marijuana goes into effect, putting Idaho in the center of a shrinking circle of Western states – including Utah and Wyoming – where the use, possession, sale, cultivation and transportation of cannabis is illegal.

But we’re not here to engage in the pot legalization pro-con debate, but rather the more pressing issue of how does Idaho maintain the laws it has set forth that are in direct conflict to those of its neighbors?

Throw lawyers at it?

This solution is being tried by Nebraska and Oklahoma that last month filed suit in U.S. Supreme Court, arguing legalized marijuana from neighboring Colorado is improperly spilling across state lines. The argument is the extensive commercialization permitted by Colorado undermines Nebraska’s and Oklahoma’s marijuana bans and puts stress and added expense on its law enforcement agencies, and – as if you forgot — this is not permitted under federal drug laws.

Nebraska and Oklahoma are claiming injury as a result. Colorado deflects the argument saying those states’ grievances are not with Colorado’s voters but due to non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana.

The issues are complex, but our simple overview is there is some responsibility to the plaintiffs on the part of both Colorado and the federal government for, respectively, their actions and inaction. There’s no indication Colorado, Oregon, Washington or others gave thought in their legalization efforts to the impact of this to their neighbors; and the fed’s policy to allow this and cherry-pick its drug enforcement undermines it all.

So what can Idaho be learning here?

The Gem State borders with Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Montana where cannabis is either legal, or where possession and/or medical pot is decriminalized. If the stories from Nebraska and Oklahoma are any indication, Idaho could be experiencing similar enforcement stresses due to the proximity of those states.

But Idaho can set aside the lawsuit option. Idaho, as a strong proponent of states’ rights, can respect its neighbors’ decisions, but it should also be defending the choices of Idahoans. As good neighbors do, Idaho should be talking across the fence line, working with Washington, Oregon and others on interstate agreements that – once based on substantiated data – provide cooperative efforts and/or compensation for its increased drug enforcement. And the feds need to step up and enforce what’s on the books, contract to states to do their enforcement job for them, or maybe rethink whether – as marijuana advocates say – they are on the wrong side of history and decriminalize pot altogether.

But that’s an argument for another time.


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