After two hours of testimony claiming that marijuana causes cancer, promiscuity, laziness and mental illness, a Senate committee agreed on Wednesday morning to pass on resolutions opposing marijuana legalization to the full Senate.
The Senate State Affairs Committee said yes to Senate Joint Memorial 101 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 112.
Though the measures would not have the force of law, they ask the federal government to enforce federal anti-drug laws in Idaho and surrounding states, adding that the Legislature is vehemently opposed to legalization of marijuana in the state for any purpose.
The measures were introduced by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who said the bill was brought to him by the Association of Idaho Cities.
“Legalization of marijuana in any form is a threat to our communities, on our roads, in the workplace and in the classroom,” said John Evans, mayor of Garden City and president of the AIC. “The young adults in this room need to hear from you that smoking marijuana is not OK.”
Darrin Taylor, mayor of Middleton, Idaho, also said he favored the measures. Taylor blamed marijuana for the rate of teen pregnancy in Idaho—2,245 teen pregnancies in 2010—because, he said, the drug reduces inhibitions and increases promiscuity.
“Marijuana use is dangerous because it’s subtle—its consequences are subtle, but costly,” he said. “It naturally trends to an unproductive individual, group of friends and community.”
Taylor and Evans were joined by Drug Free Idaho Director Marianne King in supporting the measures. King argued that marijuana legalization would result in a workforce that is “virtually unemployable” because many people wouldn’t be able to pass a drug test required by many employers.
On the other hand, she said, legalizing marijuana could also mean that employees could go to work stoned and employers would have little recourse.
“Imagine a workplace where employees show up high on marijuana and there’s nothing we can do about it,” she said. “That’s the concern we hear. Finding someone that can pass a pre-employment drug test is getting harder and harder.”
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, pointed out that employers already regulate the use of substances such as alcohol during the workday.
“My sense is that workplaces can limit these legal substances currently,” he said.
Many young people also said they supported the measures, including 16-year-old Nick Chaffin from Idaho Falls. Chaffin said he was concerned about celebrities such as Michael Phelps promoting marijuana use.
“We’re getting mixed messages as teenagers,” he said. “We don’t understand if [marijuana] is good or bad.”
Elisha Figueroa, administrator of the Governor’s Office of Drug Policy, said marijuana consumption has been linked to mental illness through “various credible studies,” and that the plant is a “crude street drug containing hundreds of chemicals … [with] no accepted medical use.”
But many members of the public with severe illnesses testified against the measures, saying marijuana is far less dangerous than the opioid pain pills they may have to take otherwise.
Gari DeBoard identified herself as a “terminally ill patient.” She did not specify her condition, but said she suffers from nerve pain that makes her feel as though she is on fire from the neck down.
“Yes, I can take a heavy-duty amount of pain pills, but I will die from those pain pills, too,” she said. “They will shut my body down. [Marijuana] is the only thing that works.”
Lindsey Rinehart, executive director of the pro-marijuana group Compassionate Idaho, walked to the podium with a cane and informed the panel that she has a type of multiple sclerosis that only responds to the specific combination of chemicals that can be found in nonsynthetic marijuana.
“To ban it would force me and other families to move out of the state,” she said.
Other members of the public said the drug alleviated their depression and marijuana should be decriminalized so that young people who experiment with the drug do not face discrimination later in life.
Former Boise mayoral candidate David Benjamin Hall said he’s been using marijuana to fight “a very deadly disease”—depression—for more than 30 years.
“After 30 years of smoking cannabis, I’ve never once smoked a joint, finished it and wanted to end my own life,” he said. “This is a personal attack against me and my right to decide for myself how I’m going to live my life, how I’m going to treat my illness.”
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, later emotionally testified that she’s watched family members suffer from the effects of cancer treatment, especially nausea induced by chemotherapy.
“These people need relief, and we need to be able to feed them, and they need nutrients,” she said. “I hope we keep that in mind.”
Stennett joined the majority in voting for the measures. She was not available by press time Thursday to explain her reasons for doing so.
Werk, however, voted no, arguing that marijuana use should be an issue of personal responsibility as are alcohol and tobacco.
Kate Wutz: email@example.com