The first speech of a new governor is critical in setting the road map for the state and assuring its residents our chief executive has a firm handle on the wheel and a decisive view of the direction he intends to follow.
Our new governor, Brad Little, hit several important topics Monday in his State of the State and Budget Address, recognizing the achievements of the past and working to continue those, as well as charting his agenda for the future. Along with education, economy and health care, Little emphasized his commitment to tackling substance abuse – specifically the opioid crisis — with plans, programming and resources.
When talking about substance abuse, what we would like to see in a state program is how Idaho will also deal with marijuana, and specifically, demonstrate innovation in a new policy from this point forward.
With Utah’s recent legalization of medicinal marijuana, Idaho finds itself nearly an island of pot prohibition, apart from neighboring Wyoming.
In the face of this legalization trend, what is Idaho’s future as regards cannabis? Either it is to eventually submit to what appears to be the inevitable – legalization – or Idaho can take the lead in creating a hybrid plan that maintains our prohibition but adjusts state laws for the realities we are surrounded by.
A good first step was recently editorialized by the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), which proposed Idaho allow hemp cultivation – worthless for the illegal drug trade, with its value rather in commercial ag application including in textiles and food. IFF also suggested decriminalizing marijuana possession, which takes the target off the backs of ordinary citizens and allows law enforcement more time to focus on serious criminal threats to persons and property.
In line with this, this coming legislative session will see renewed efforts toward addressing Idaho’s mandatory minimum sentences. According to representatives Ilana Rubel and Bryan Zollinger, since these laws were passed in 1992, their goal for deterring drug use and trafficking hasn’t come to pass — in the 26 years since, Idaho’s drug offense rate per capita has climbed 640 percent. The emphasis away from mandatory minimums is allowing judges to do their job: decide cases on their merits, which includes evaluating them on the threat to society. Making the change here would empty cells of nonviolent drug offenders and make space for seriously dangerous individuals who need to be caged.
Such ideas are circulating in the public conversation now, and more need to be encouraged to create momentum for change that makes for substantive results, not just crime statistics.
Under the status quo, Idaho has two options:
• Idaho could be lazy about it, just go full legalization, and deal with a new series of issues we’re ill-prepared for, and with an underestimated drug that has serious public health concerns for mental health and violence (see the Jan. 4 Wall Street Journal commentary, “Marijuana is more dangerous than you think”.)
• Idaho could trod the rutted path of zero tolerance, which falls into that pop culture definition of insanity: doing the same thing but expecting different results.
But under a new chief executive for Idaho?
Governor Little has an exciting opportunity to take fresh eyes and innovation into addressing a long-standing problem concerning marijuana, make a policy that reflects the values and desires of its residents, and lead the nation in how this substance should be handled.