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Medical marijuana law proposed for Idaho

by Jessie L. Bonner
| April 14, 2010 9:00 PM

BOISE - A Republican lawmaker wants to make Idaho the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana, saving chronically ill patients a trip across the border to Washington, Oregon, Nevada or Montana.

Moscow Rep. Tom Trail first proposed a measure to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho more than a year ago, but a draft of the legislation drew early opposition from law enforcement and other groups, he said.

He decided to try again after New Jersey's then-Gov. Jon Corzine signed legislation in January that grants chronically ill patients legal access to marijuana at state dispensaries. Trail plans to introduce similar legislation, focusing on patients with severe illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, Lou Gehrig's disease, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.

"I'm not getting caught up in the great marijuana debate, because that can kill you pretty quickly," said Trail, who previously failed to persuade Idaho lawmakers to support a resolution to legalize industrial hemp as a farm crop.

In state legislatures nationwide, there are about 100 bills related to medical marijuana, including measures to create or update existing programs, said Karmen Hanson, a policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"It's a little higher than what we generally see, but I'd say a lot of states are looking at it given budget concerns," Hanson said, noting that some states have considered taxing it to generate revenue.

Six states - California, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island - have authorized dispensaries for licensed medical marijuana patients. The eight other states that remove criminal penalties for medical marijuana use are Alaska, Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

The Idaho legislation would allow patients to access up to 2 ounces of marijuana a month - enough for about a joint a day - at state dispensaries. Doctor referrals would be limited to a set list of chronic illnesses, and growing pot at home would remain illegal.

It would be the most restrictive medical marijuana law in the country, said Trail, echoing claims made by lawmakers in the New Jersey Assembly over the state's Compassionate Use Marijuana Act.

Trail plans to host several town hall meetings over the summer before introducing his proposal during Idaho's next legislative session.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, a Lewiston Democrat and retired physician, said he needs more proof that marijuana is a valid addition to the current list of legal prescription drugs.

"I'm perfectly willing to look at the evidence," Rusche said, "but so far I have not been convinced."

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