Idaho Cannabis Coalition Opposes SB1159
Legislators are cheating Idahoans out of their constitutional right to make laws because they know medical marijuana would win
BOISE, March 22, 2019 – Idaho lawmakers are once again trying to make it harder for citizens to exercise their political will through citizen initiative. Their new bill, SB1159, is an undemocratic power grab by the legislature designed to cheat ordinary Idaho citizens of their constitutional right to create and change the law by popular vote when the legislature refuses to act.
SB1159 proposes to increase the signature gathering requirements for an initiative petition to qualify for the ballot. Under current law, petitioners must gather signatures totaling at least six percent (6%) of the state’s registered voters in the last general election from at least 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, all within an eighteen-month period.
SB1159 would increase those signature requirements to ten percent (10%) of the state’s registered voters from 32 of the 35 districts, while decreasing the signature gathering period to 180 days. Should it pass, SB 1159 would make Idaho’s initiative process the most difficult in the nation.
Russ Belville, spokesperson for the Idaho Cannabis Coalition, says the legislature fears the likely passage of a medical marijuana law, should a successful petition be circulated for the 2020 election.
“Americans overwhelmingly – even in Idaho – support medical marijuana,” said Belville. “The latest polls show even elderly, conservative Republicans support medical marijuana. Faced with our popular campaign to put medical marijuana on the ballot, the legislature has decided, ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, cheat ‘em.’”
Since 1912, Idaho has been one of 26 United States that have some form of citizen initiative process. But in 1997, following California’s passage of medical marijuana by citizen initiative, the legislature changed the signature gathering requirement. Concerned that petitioners could gather the required six percent figure by gathering in a few metropolitan areas, they added a requirement that signatures be gathered from at least half of Idaho’s 44 counties.
That geographic requirement was struck down in 2001 in the case Idaho Coalition United for Bears v. Cenarrusa. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill declared that the requirement violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution by favoring the votes of people in sparsely-populated counties over more-populated ones.
In 2013, following Colorado and Washington’s passage of recreational marijuana by citizen initiative, Idaho legislators passed the law currently mandating the 18-district signature gathering requirement. Since legislative districts are of roughly equal population, the legislature cleverly avoided violating the constitution’s “one man, one vote” principle.
“By district or by county, the intent is the same, though,” said Belville. “The point is to force citizens to spend so many resources all over the state in so short a time frame that getting an initiative on the ballot is impossible. Even with enough funding, if the people of Idaho overwhelmingly supported a petition, their right to vote on it could be stymied by opposition in just four rural districts.”
“Idaho’s initiative process was first used by outdoorsmen to create the Fish & Game Commission,” Belville explained. “Since then, it’s been used by ordinary citizens to reduce property taxes, ban dredge mining, set term limits, create the lottery, and approve tribal gaming. Most recently, citizens used an initiative to expand health care coverage for the most vulnerable Idahoans. It’s a shame the legislature so fears the popular support for medical marijuana that they’re willing to sacrifice Idahoans’ constitutional right to make laws.”
Idaho Cannabis Coalition is a grassroots effort to change public opinion and laws in Idaho in support of regulating the production of and access to medical cannabis by sick and disabled patients.
Name: Russ Belville