Idaho lawmakers seek federal help fighting marijuana

BOISE, Idaho — In a historically conservative state that often opposes so many forms of federal involvement — from the health care law to endangered species acts — Idaho lawmakers are now looking for all the help they can get from Washington when it comes to enforcing the nation’s drug laws.

The Senate State Affairs Committee approved two anti-marijuana resolutions Wednesday, including one urging the government to enforce existing drug laws along borders with states that continue to relax marijuana statutes.

“We are making a statement that we as a legislature, at this time, do not support the legalization of marijuana because of the impact we’ve seen in the other states around us,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

Winder also is the chief sponsor of a resolution affirming the state’s position against use of marijuana in any form, medically or otherwise.

Both resolutions, merely symbolic policy gestures, are now headed to the Senate for debate before vetting begins in the Idaho House.

But for a state that makes a habit of bucking the federal government, the appeal for strict enforcement of federal drug laws has some taking note.

“In some instances we seek the federal government to come and enforce the law, and in other instances, we seem to decide we don’t want the federal government to enforce the law in our state,” Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said before the committee voted Wednesday.

In recent years, Idaho lawmakers led the march in 2010 to sue in a failed attempt to overturn President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Idaho legislators also blasted efforts by lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to require new “Real ID” drivers licenses that some saw as a privacy intrusion.

This year, lawmakers are also considering beginning an effort to take over more than 16 million acres of federally managed land, on grounds that Idaho officials can do it better.

But Winder said the drug proposals are a separate matter.

“I think it’s different because the federal government has the responsibility to provide law enforcement of interstate traffic of illegal drugs,” he said.

The resolutions making their way through the Idaho Capitol come as a counterpunch to recent developments in three neighboring states.

Last fall, voters in Washington state and Colorado approved measures allowing recreational use of marijuana for adults. Oregon and Montana, meanwhile, each allow marijuana use for medical purposes.

At a public hearing on the measures Wednesday, more than 150 people — including more than a dozen teens sporting red “Don’t let Idaho go to pot” t-shirts — packed a Capitol auditorium to debate marijuana use.

Some said they’ve considered moving to nearby states with looser marijuana laws, and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Compassionate Idaho say the resolution builds barriers for people using marijuana for pain related to cancer and other illnesses.

But law enforcement, some physicians and anti-drug groups backing the measure decried pot as a gateway drug that dangerously impairs users.

“I am begging, and I am pleading you — on all four hands and knees — to find another way because marijuana is not the answer,” said Nick Chaffin, a teen with the Bonneville Youth Development Council.

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