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Idaho lawmakers want to make legalizing drugs more difficult

March 11, 2021 GMT
Republican Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt addresses the House State Affairs Committee at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, Thursday, March 11, 2021. The panel approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent the legalization of marijuana and other drugs without approval of two-thirds of the Idaho Legislature. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)
Republican Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt addresses the House State Affairs Committee at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, Thursday, March 11, 2021. The panel approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent the legalization of marijuana and other drugs without approval of two-thirds of the Idaho Legislature. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A House panel on Thursday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent the legalization of marijuana and other drugs without the approval of two-thirds of the Idaho Legislature.

The House State Affair Committee voted 10-4 to send the resolution to the full House.

Backers said the state Constitution needs to be changed because neighboring states have approved marijuana use, and it could happen in conservative Idaho through a ballot initiative.

Those opposed feared that medical marijuana would never be legalized under the plan, saying the drug is needed for residents suffering from chronic or terminal illnesses. Others said the two-thirds vote needed for the Legislature to approve drugs was too high, and should be just a simple majority.

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The measure would have to pass the House and Senate with a two-thirds majority before going to voters in November 2022, where it would require a simple majority.

“An amendment to protect and preserve Idaho’s culture for our children, families and communities deserves our careful consideration, deserves a vote of the people,” said Republican Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt.

Idaho is one of only three states without some sort of policy allowing residents to possess products with even low amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

Residents can cross the state border in nearly every direction and find themselves in a place where marijuana can be bought for recreational or medicinal purposes.

Support for Idaho medicinal marijuana use is growing, with legalization activists trying to get an initiative on the ballot in 2022.

Russ Belville of the Idaho Cannabis Coalition said that if both the medical marijuana measure and lawmaker measure get on the ballot, and both are passed, the medical marijuana measure would be prohibited because of the lawmaker measure.

“Well-meaning people may vote yes on both, not knowing that their second yes just canceled their first yes,” he said.

The measure that passed the House committee Thursday replaces a different proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned all psychoactive drugs not already legal in the state. That previous measure had drawn heated opposition, but cleared the Senate before stalling on the House side.

The new measure is less draconian in that it gives elected leaders the option of approving some drugs in the future. It drew less opposition than the previous legislation.