(CN) “We won! We won!” a crowd roared in downtown Denver when a jumbo screen announced to them that Colorado had just become the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana. The smell of the substance wafted through city streets — partakers not caring that the law would take two months to kick in — and supporters went to bed feeling high on the knoweldge they had just help to effect a real change for the country.
That was ten years ago, when Colorado and Washington took the unprecedented step to approve recreational cannabis within their borders, a move not even progressive California had taken after being the first to allow medical marijuana in the 1990s. Legalization of recreational pot was considered a radical by many in 2012 — including then-President Barack Obama.
Yet many states followed suit. Today, 18 states have fully legalized recreational marijuana while 38 have approved it for medical needs, making cannabis legal to some extent in nearly 80% of the United States.
But in Idaho, a conservative stomping ground, efforts to legalize marijuana have repeatedly failed.
Since it was first outlawed in the Gem State during prohibition, there have been several attempts to get a voter initiative for marijuana reform on the ballot. Such initiatives failed in 2012 and 2014 for not having enough signatures, while others failed to get off the ground due to organizational mishaps and complications due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Most recently, an attempt to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot for the 2022 general election failed to meet the requirements in time.
Joe Evans, a Libertarian candidate for Idaho’s First Congressional District and treasurer of the Kind Idaho Medical Marijuana Consortium that worked to get that initiative on the ballot, says organizational and funding problems were in largely to blame.
“We ran into two problems,” Evans said. “One, we didn’t have any funding to support our volunteer efforts. And two, certain establishment community volunteers still insisted on trying to do it the old way ... They wanted to hold on to the petitions until the absolute last possible minutes so that nobody knew what the actual status of the petition was.”
Evans says that in order for a marijuana legalization initiative to see the light of day in the state, Idaho organizers need to learn the lessons of initiatives’ past and adopt blueprints with successful track records. He and other advocates maintain that Idaho has the numbers to pass marijuana reform. But it’s still up to community work to turn those numbers into results.
Why has legalized marijuana found a home in much of the U.S., including in fellow rural, conservative states like Alaska and Montana, but not in Idaho?
According to Evans, it comes down to not just Idaho’s GOP-dominated politics, but its tendency to be very slow to embrace change.
“We don’t have an interest in trying something new until its established as successful,” he said. “One of the problems is that some states have done marijuana legalization badly.”
The rollout of legalized marijuna in some places has been bumpy. The fact the substance is legal in many states but not on the federal level has presented legal and logistical challenges for communities trying to accept it. Additionally, weed dispensaries around the country have been the subject of multiple armed robberies.
But many say that the dangers posed by weed dispensaries is a failing not of the marijuana community, but of the feds. Because the federal government still lists marijuana as a Schedule I substance — right alongside heroin and LSD — dispensaries often can't use banks and are forced to work with nothing but cash. Yet the sales from legalized weed are still subject to tax.