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Kingsley part of effort to allow medical marijuana in Idaho

Lewiston Morning Tribune - 2/3/2021

Feb. 3—BOISE — Idaho Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, is joining forces with a 22-year military veteran and a Boise Democrat to propose a medical marijuana bill.

The legislation, which could be introduced as early as next week, would legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, subject to a number of conditions and restrictions.

For example, it would only be available by prescription. It would be packaged like any other medicinal drug, and would be dispensed by pharmacies. The marijuana wouldn't come in baggies or in joints, or be baked into brownies or other consumables. The dosages would also be high enough to address pain issues, but too low to produce a high.

"The whole goal is to keep it from becoming recreational," said Kingsley, who initially ran for office because he wanted to improve substance abuse and addiction treatment services in Idaho.

As a member of the governor's Opioid and Substance Use Disorder Advisory Group, Kingsley understands the dangers of opioid pain killers, which contribute to thousands of overdose deaths each year. He's also aware that many Idahoans cross into Washington and other neighboring states to purchase marijuana for their own pain treatment needs.

"I've had so many constituents tell me they feel like criminals every time they cross the bridge (to Clarkston)," he said. "We can't keep shutting this down from the people who need it."

Kingsley was working on a bill of his own, but recently joined forces with House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, and Jeremy Kitzhaber, a 22-year U.S. Air Force veteran who has Stage 4 terminal cancer.

Kitzhaber has spent the past two years drafting a medical marijuana bill that tries to address concerns about opening up Idaho to greater drug use. It's modeled on similar legislation passed by Utah, but includes additional restrictions such as prohibiting the growing of marijuana anywhere in the state.

"It would be the strictest (medical marijuana) law in the country," Rubel said.

Even so, the proposal runs counter to the Legislature's long-standing opposition to "the evil weed." Lawmakers have even refused to legalize industrial hemp, in part because of concerns it would be a first step toward legalizing marijuana.

The Idaho Senate is also set to debate a proposed constitutional amendment today that bans the legalization of marijuana or other psychoactive drugs, unless they're approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

During testimony on the proposed amendment, Kitzhaber said it would "forever force people with serious medical conditions to either live in pain and take opioids, or risk criminal prosecution by going across the state line to obtain cannabis."

The FDA will never approve the medical use of marijuana, he said, because no drug company will ever spend the millions of dollars needed to prove its effectiveness — particularly when the plant can't be patented and people can grow it in their basement.

"This resolution forever denies an additional medical treatment," Kitzhaber said. "No other state requires FDA approval for medical cannabis."

Rubel said their medical marijuana legislation essentially regulates the drug like an opioid pain killer.

"There's not a lot of basis for treating them differently," she said. "If anything, opioids are more addictive. So if we allow doctors to prescribe opioids, I don't see why they can't prescribe cannabis."

Polls suggest more than 70 percent of Idahoans support the legalization of marijuana for those who are seriously ill. While it remains illegal at the federal level — for now — 36 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana.

"For years I've heard legislators say 'in principle' they have no objection to the use of medical cannabis," Rubel said. "So let's take it out of the world of 'in principle' and push this forward. Sgt. Kitzhaber has terminal cancer. He doesn't have all the time in the world. I want to make sure his bill can be heard while he's still around to testify."

Spence may be contacted at or (208) 791-9168.


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