Idaho Citizens Coalition Testimony Against Against SJR101

The Idaho Senate State Affairs committee today heard testimony on Senate Joint Resolution 101, a proposal by Sen. C. Scott Grow to place a constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot that would prohibit legalizing medical marijuana in Idaho, as well as any other currently-regulated schedule I and II drugs under state law. It would further tie Idaho’s drug laws to the federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which would make it impossible to ever legalize medical marijuana, since the FDA is incapable of regulating plants.

74% of Idahoans surveyed in 2019 supported the proposed 2020 Idaho Medical Marijuana Act. Support increased to 78% once they heard more about the initiative’s language.

Following is the written testimony we offered today, delivered by Bill Esbensen, Operations Manager for the Idaho Citizens Coalition, in opposition to this proposed marijuana prohibition amendment.

Madame Chair, Senators, thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Bill Esbensen and I represent the Idaho Citizens Coalition. We are the people that you are so afraid will pass medical and adult use marijuana that you’re willing to blow up the state constitution.

Let me be clear. Marijuana exists. It is here in Idaho. 113,000 Idaho adults currently use marijuana every month. Prohibition does not make marijuana disappear and legalization does not make it suddenly materialize.

With those facts in mind, let us look at the data. Currently, six marijuana shops in Ontario, Oregon, sell $8 million per month of marijuana, mostly to Idahoans.

They do not smoke it in Ontario. They bring it back to Idaho and smoke it here.

So, we get all the downsides of marijuana, but none of the tax revenue to deal with it.

Idaho Citizens Coalition spokesperson Bill Esbensen

I heard that the mayor of Ontario is in support of this prohibition. That is no surprise. Why would he want Idahoans to stop contributing $240,000 per month in taxes to his city? Why would he not want to continue profiting on $8,000,000 of monthly sales with his interest in one of the shops?

We send all our marijuana money to Oregon and Washington border towns. Today, Jackpot, Nevada, commissioners are making plans for two shops there on the southern border. Soon, border shops in Montana will serve Eastern Idaho. By summer, half of all Idahoans will live within a one hour drive of a legal marijuana shop.

We have heard a lot of testimony from people about how terrible marijuana is. Much of that testimony is just fear mongering with no basis in scientific fact. The gateway drug theory was debunked by the feds in 1999. The legal marijuana states have seen no increase in teen use. The stats about marijuana and drivers are all based on tests that only show if you are a marijuana smoker, not that you are impaired by marijuana.

But even if all these reefer madness scare stories were true, that would argue for regulating marijuana and taxing it so we can use those dollars to deal with those problems. Every story you heard today about someone in Idaho having a terrible problem with marijuana happened while it is illegal. Making it permanently illegal is not going to change that.

Sen. Grow testified that he just wants Idaho voters to have a choice between medical marijuana, adult use marijuana, or keeping Idaho “drug-free.” But marijuana is already illegal in Idaho. All voters have to do to keep Idaho “drug-free” is vote no on both those initiatives.

But we are here today because Sen. Grow knows that the people will vote yes on both those initiatives. What the Senator proposes is a way to ban marijuana even if those initiatives pass.

As I am sure you know, amendments outrank initiatives. That means that if our medical marijuana initiative passed with 75%, like our polls show, and our adult use passed with 57%, like Montana just did, Sen. Grow’s amendment would only need to pass with 50.1% and those two initiatives would be invalid.

Then, if the people who supported those initiatives wanted to do something about that, they could not. It takes an amendment to repeal an amendment, and citizens cannot propose amendments in Idaho, only legislators can.

The fact that the Senator would use this tactic to try to stop a medical marijuana law that three-quarters of the people support and an adult-use initiative that over half would support, just shows how desperate the legislature is to deny the will of the people.

Thank you for allowing me to testify and I stand for any questions you may have.

Idaho Press: LTEs Against SJR101

The following Letters to the Editor were published by the Idaho Press on January 23, 2021.


Beware my fellow citizens with a brain, the paternalistic luddites, otherwise known as the Idaho Legislature is back in Boise.

They will soon introduce legislation to do away with daylight saving time, further restrict citizen initiatives, and allow religious nuts more freedom to withhold medical care from their children.

They already have a bill to limit medical science by restricting any change in the use of now illegal drugs.

My heavens, what will happen if the Feds decide medical marijuana is useful in controlling pain in some cancer patients?

Consider your next vote carefully.

Lee Bernasconi, Boise

Medical marijuana

RE: Proposed constitutional amendment Jan. 19, 2021:

Dear Freedom Loving Idahoans,

I cannot imagine any self-respecting Idahoan allowing their right to medical privacy and choice of medically available treatments to be obliterated. This personal choice is at risk if C. Scott Grow has his way promoting new legislation for a change in Idaho’s constitution, in order to prevent future cannabis/marijuana availability.

My profession involved clinical research for investigational drugs, primarily oncology. I understand the science of developing various medicines from nature. Such as: Pacific Yew Tree = paclitaxel for cancer; Madagascar Periwinkle =Vincristine and vinblastine chemotherapy; Flame Lily = colchicine for gout; White Willow Tree = salicylic acid for aspirin; Chinese Star Anise = shikimic acid for anti-viral drugs against influenza viruses; Foxgloves = digitalin creates digoxin for cardiac conditions.

A 1999 U.S. Government study at Institute of Medicine revealed beneficial properties of marijuana for nausea caused by chemotherapy. More studies show marijuana’s pain reducing effects. Two studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine, confirm opioid prescriptions are lower where medical marijuana is accessible. Unfortunately, Idaho providers wrote 61.9 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons compared to the average U.S. rate of 51.4 prescriptions. Marijuana is a muscle relaxant, reducing tremors in Parkinson’s disease. Fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and chronic pain are managed by Marijuana and is used to treat glaucoma. Promising research involves relief for PTSD in veterans returning from combat zones. Many veterans and their therapists report drastic improvement via clinical studies.

In 2017, medicinal marijuana in the United States garnered $5.1 billion in revenue. By 2025, it is projected this industry will grow to $13.5 billion.

I URGE you to educate yourself and block draconian efforts by Idaho legislators to deprive its citizens of the private and personal freedom to choose innovative and available medical treatments.

Jaclyn Morrison, Meridian

Grand Forks Herald: GOP lawmakers back bill to legalize pot in North Dakota despite opposing the idea

Idaho lawmakers, you’re not the only red state bordered by legal marijuana states that is facing an electorate that wants to legalize marijuana by initiative petition in 2022. But instead of writing prohibition into their state constitution, this Republican is writing a bill to legalize it The North Dakota Way. — Russ

BISMARCK — Rep. Jason Dockter has found himself in a strange predicament.

The Bismarck Republican doesn’t believe marijuana should be legal, yet he’s the prime sponsor of a bill that would legalize the drug for recreational use in North Dakota.

I’m not for (legalization) at all, but I understand that it’s coming, and we have to address the issue. I’m trying something different in government — we’re trying to be proactive and not be reactive.

North Dakota Rep. Jason Dockter (R)

Dockter, who said he has never smoked pot, thinks attitudes toward the drug have altered so much in the past few years that it’s likely only a matter of time before the wave of legalization reaches North Dakota. The state could soon be geographically surrounded by territories that allow marijuana use after South Dakota and Montana voters approved legalization measures last year. Legislation to legalize the drug in Minnesota has recently gained momentum, and recreational use already is permitted in Canada.

The tides seem to be turning in North Dakota, too. Voters in the state overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that legalized medicinal marijuana in 2016 despite vocal opposition from many Republican lawmakers. However, voters rejected a 2018 measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana.

Legislators, Work With Us on Marijuana Reform

The Idaho Citizens Coalition sent the following physical letter (with details personalized to each recipient) to every member of the Idaho State Legislature, as a good faith effort to work with our elected officials to reform Idaho’s antiquated marijuana laws. — Russ

Dear Senator Grow,

My name is Russ Belville. I am a third-generation Idahoan, and a representative of the Idaho Citizens Coalition. I am writing to you today to ask you to consider establishing a legal, regulated adult marketplace for cannabis (marijuana) in the Gem State.

As I am sure you are aware, fifteen states have now legalized adult marijuana use, including our neighbors Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and this election, Montana. Every other state but one in the West has legalized medical use of marijuana, including our neighbor Utah. Even Wyoming allows the use of non-psychoactive hemp oil to treat childhood epilepsy.

You may not know that as of the last election, Idaho stands alone as the only state in the nation where that non-psychoactive hemp oil — legal under federal law — remains criminally prohibited.

Idaho’s criminal prohibition of marijuana is both futile and wasteful.

Futile because most Idahoans now live within a 60 minute drive of a current legal marijuana shop in Oregon or Washington. Soon, even more will live that close to new marijuana shops that will spring up in Nevada and Montana — including 65 of your fellow legislators. (In fact, your hometown of Eagle is just a 53 minute drive from where there is at least one legal shop in Ontario, Oregon.)

Government surveys show that about 8.2% of Idaho adults use marijuana monthly. Simple observation shows parking lots full of cars with Idaho license plates at pot shops across the border. And believe it or not, marijuana smoking has increased at a greater rate since 2012–13 among adults in Idaho than either Oregon or Washington.

Wasteful because thousands of Idaho adults spend their marijuana money over the border, then they bring their marijuana smoking back to Idaho. We get all the downsides of marijuana smoking but receive none of the benefits. Then we spend over $4,000 per marijuana arrest that does not stop anyone from smoking marijuana and needlessly devastates the career and educational opportunities of the arrested.

Idaho is leaving millions of dollars in revenue on the table.

The opening of marijuana shops in Ontario, Oregon, provides insight. Data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission show that shops in Malheur County (in which only Ontario allows shops) have sold over $100 million in marijuana products since opening in July 2019. Over the past seven months, the shops have averaged over $8 million in sales per month.

With a 3% local marijuana tax in effect, that has raised over $3.1 million for the town of Ontario. Another 17% state marijuana tax means Ontario has raised $17.5 million for Oregon — mostly from Idahoans.

If those Idahoans were buying their marijuana in-state, Idaho’s 6% sales tax alone works out to at least a half-million dollars in tax revenue per month. We could triple that revenue by adding up to 12% more in local and excise taxation and still remain competitive with our neighbors.

Idaho marijuana legalization is inevitable, so why not do it the Idaho way?

In the last election, South Dakota shocked the world by moving directly from criminal marijuana prohibition to legal adult marijuana use and cannabis cultivation in a 54% vote.

In our last campaign to place a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, our polling showed 78% support among Idahoans, with 56% expressing a “definite yes” for medical marijuana.

There is simply too much money and opportunity on the table to think Idaho can forestall legalization much longer. Our organization is already fielding solicitations from Idaho investors who are eager to fund our legalization initiative. With enough money, the signatures will be collected, the issue will make the ballot, and it will pass and become law.

The legislature can take charge of marijuana legalization.

But rather than going that route, spending a great deal of money, and risking the pandemic to collect signatures, we’d like to ask you, the legislature, to work with us in crafting either a legislative solution or a legislatively-referred initiative to legalize marijuana.

The advantages are these: Our funders are going to fight to produce the most liberal legalization they can. Once that is passed, the legislature will have to accept what is passed or risk political fallout from reversing the will of the people. But if the legislature writes or refers legalization to the ballot, it can weigh in on issues such as licensing, driving, public use, home cultivation, and more, crafting a proposal more in tune with Idaho values.

Furthermore, while we can only present a statutory initiative to the people, the legislature can refer a constitutional amendment, insulating Idaho’s legalization from some court challenges that could affect a statutory initiative that passes.

Let’s talk about legalizing marijuana in Idaho.

As I said, I am a third-generation Idahoan, but I left Idaho in 2003 when my then-wife needed medical marijuana for her severe medical issues. For fifteen years, I lived, worked, and paid taxes in Oregon, because our home state of Idaho would arrest and incarcerate us for our marijuana use.

Now I am back in Idaho to help provide care for my elderly parents, who could benefit greatly from medical marijuana for their chronic pain and cancer. There are more Idaho expatriates like me, people who love the Gem State, but were forced to leave because of criminal marijuana prohibition, and still more (an estimated 113,000 adults) who stay in Idaho and risk incarceration for their marijuana use.

Enough is enough. Well over two-thirds of the American people believe marijuana should be legal and one-third live in states where it already is. The US House has already passed marijuana legalization and with Democrats controlling the US Senate, it will pass there, and the Biden/Harris administration will sign it into law.

Please, let’s work together to craft Idaho’s inevitable legalization the Idaho way. I am always available to you for any discussion or research you need to make your decision.

Sincerely Yours,

Russ Belville – Spokesperson
Idaho Citizens Coalition for Cannabis

Idaho Statesman: As pot legalization gains momentum in U.S., Idaho senator pushes to ban ‘psychoactive drugs’

While other states warm up to legalizing recreational marijuana use, Idaho senators are considering a new way to ban psychoactive drugs — by putting it in the state’s constitution.

State Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, introduced a constitutional amendment Monday that would put the prohibition in the Idaho Constitution instead of just code, which would make it more difficult to legalize psychoactive drugs in the future.

It’s a ‘Hail Mary’ pass by the Idaho Legislature to stop the changes in marijuana laws they know are inevitable. It’s not just desperate legislation, it’s also flawed legislation.

Idaho Citizens Coalition spokesperson Russ Belville

The new section of the constitution would ban “the production, manufacture, transportation, sale, delivery, dispensing, distribution, possession, or use of a psychoactive drug” unless it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration and lawfully prescribed.

Idaho Anti-Drug-Legalization Amendment a “Hail Mary” Attempt to Thwart Marijuana

The Idaho Press on Martin Luther King Jr. Day[i] reported that State Senator C. Scott Grow has proposed a constitutional amendment to “forbid Idaho from legalizing any psychoactive drug not already approved by the FDA and legal under Idaho laws as of 2020.”

Russ Belville, spokesperson for the Idaho Citizens Coalition, a grassroots group of Idahoans dedicated to legalizing adult-use marijuana in the Gem State, said that Sen. Grow’s proposed amendment demonstrates the desperation in the Idaho Legislature to hold back the push for marijuana legalization.

Sen. C. Scott Grow’s proposed medical marijuana prohibition amendment to the Idaho Constitution would make it impossible to ever pass a medical marijuana initiative.

“It’s a ‘Hail Mary’ pass by the Idaho Legislature to stop the changes in marijuana laws they know are inevitable,” said Belville. “It’s not just desperate legislation, it’s also flawed legislation.”

Grow’s legislation, according to the report, is already being criticized. Senator Grant Burgoyne noted that Sen. Grow’s amendment would insert 2020 Idaho code references into the state Constitution. Since code numbers are amended and repealed over time, “the Constitution would end up with references to code sections that either no longer exist or address different topics,” said Sen. Burgoyne.

It’s a ‘Hail Mary’ pass by the Idaho Legislature to stop the changes in marijuana laws they know are inevitable.

Idaho Citizens Coalition spokesperson Russ Belville

“It is just bad public policy to try and freeze Idaho’s drug laws in time, as if no new scientific and medical understanding might ever emerge,” Belville added. “Furthermore, this amendment would open up the possibility that the federal government might in the future legalize a drug through the FDA, but it would remain illegal in Idaho, because it wasn’t FDA approved in 2020.”

Idaho is the last state in America with an absolute prohibition on all forms of marijuana, including industrial hemp and full-spectrum CBD oil. Last year, South Dakota, Arizona, and Montana all legalized adult-use marijuana. In addition to Idaho’s push for adult-use and medical marijuana initiatives, the states of Nebraska and North Dakota are submitting legalization initiatives, for the 2022 ballot as well.

[i] “Sen. Grow proposes constitutional amendment to forbid Idaho from ever legalizing any drug not already legal in 2020,” by Betsy Z. Russell, Idaho Press, accessed online at

KTVB-7: Idaho drinks more wine per capita than any state, study finds

Whether a sweet rose, a bitter red or a sparkling white, a recent study found that Idahoans can’t get enough wine.

According to an article from MSN, Idaho consumes more wine than any other state in the country—by nearly 0.75 gallons over one-third of a gallon

Idahoans drink twice as much wine per capita as neighboring states that have legal marijuana.

Idaho Citizens Coalition spokesperson Russ Belville

On average, Idaho consumes 1.21 gallons of ethanol per capita. The state of Georgia New Hampshire follows Idaho’s consumption rate, drinking only 0.25 0.84 gallons of ethanol per capita.

We researched and made the corrections for KTVB, who based their article on an MSN slideshow that skipped from #1 (Idaho) to #40 (Georgia). Still, the point is made that Idaho drinks far more wine—nearly twice as much as surrounding states that all have much better access to legal marijuana.

KGW-8: Here are Oregon’s cannabis sales by county in 2020

PORTLAND, Ore — Malheur County, taking advantage of its proximity to pot-deprived Idaho, sprinted past neighbor Baker County to become the per-capita cannabis sales leader in Oregon in 2020.

Sales in the county totaled $91.7 million, all in the city of Ontario, on the border with Idaho and within an hour’s drive of hundreds of thousands of Gem State residents who can’t legally buy cannabis in their state.

The first store opened in July 2019… Malheur County was home to more than 8% of the state’s legal cannabis sales last year… [Ontario’s] annual general fund budget of around $10 million is now supplemented with more than $2.5 million in revenue from a 3% cannabis tax.

Portland’s KGW-8: Here are Oregon’s cannabis sales by county in 2020

The Business Journal’s annual analysis of data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission showed that all but two of the 31 Oregon counties where cannabis is sold legally saw big gains in 2020. Statewide, combined adult-use and medical sales increased nearly 40% and topped $1.1 billion.

Idaho Press: Editorial Board Supports Medical Marijuana

The editorial board of the Idaho Press listed medical marijuana as one of its priorities for the 2021 Idaho State Legislative Session.

Most other states in our nation have recognized the benefits of medical marijuana. Idaho, a state that is all about liberty, should not deny this medical resource to residents, such as injured veterans and cancer patients, who live with chronic pain.

Idaho Press Editorial Board

Coincidentally, the board lists “Criminal justice investment” as another priority for the legislative session, writing that “before Idaho funds a new prison, we’d like to see increased investment in programs that help people transition from prison or avoid prison time in the first place,” including treatment of “drug addiction as the mental health issue that it is and eliminate mandatory minimums, which keep people in prison longer than necessary.”

Legalizing adult-use marijuana would go along way toward those criminal justice priorities. By definition, legalizing marijuana automatically helps its consumers “avoid prison time in the first place.” Legalization separates marijuana from the dealers of other drugs, which can help reduce drug addiction. Finally, revenue from the taxation of marijuana could help fund those mental health programs for those who do have drug dependency issues.

Marijuana Moment: Idaho Activists Want Recreational Marijuana Legalization On 2022 Ballot, In Addition To Medical Cannabis

Activists are gearing up for a push to qualify an adult-use marijuana legalization measure for Idaho’s 2022 ballot following victories in similarly conservative states like Montana and South Dakota last month. The new move comes amid a separate push to put a more limited medical cannabis initiative before voters during the upcoming midterm election.

We’re excited about the prospects for recreational marijuana legalization in Idaho for 2022.With South Dakota’s passage of [recreational], we now know a red state can do it. With Montana’s legalization passing, we know it’s popular in this region.

Idaho Citizens Coalition spokesperson Russ Belville

There are few details available about the recreational measure’s provisions and how the campaign will proceed at this point, but leaders are confident that Idaho is ready for the broad policy change. And as it stands, the state is already mostly surrounded by neighbors that have legalization on the books—with Montana voters approving the reform just a few weeks ago.

An attempt to put medical cannabis reform on the state’s ballot this year was abandoned due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In October, the Idaho Citizens Coalition resubmitted a petition to get the more modest reform done in 2022, but that effort is now being transitioned to another group, Kind Idaho.

Marijuana Sales Top $100 Million in Idaho Border Town of Ontario, Oregon

ONTARIO, Oregon — According to data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, legal marijuana shops in the tiny Oregon/Idaho border town of Ontario have topped over $103 million in sales in just over sixteen months of operation.

According to the records for Malheur County, sales of marijuana have been at about $8 million a month or greater for the past seven months, as over a half-dozen marijuana shops have opened since July 2019.

Malheur County still maintains a ban on marijuana businesses. That’s the status quo for most of Eastern Oregon, set in 2015 when state legislators allowed counties that rejected the 2014 marijuana legalization initiative to automatically ban marijuana licensees such as dispensaries and grow sites.

When it comes to Boise, we send our marijuana tax money to Ontario and they send their marijuana back to us.

Idaho Citizens Coalition spokesperson Russ Belville

Ontario is the only city in Malheur County that allows marijuana sales, having voted by initiative to overturn its ban in 2018 by a 56.8 percent vote. With the local 3 percent marijuana tax in effect, this town of about 17,000 people has raised about $3.1 million in revenue from legal marijuana.

On a per-capita basis, that makes Malheur County, population roughly 30,000, by far the state leader in sales. In November, Ontario’s pot shops sold $23 worth of marijuana per person in November 2020.

Of course, they’re not just selling marijuana to Malheur County residents.

Ontario is just across the Snake River border with Idaho, and just a one-hour-or-less drive away from the 750,000 Idahoans living in the Boise Metro Area. The parking lots of Ontario’s marijuana shops, just off the two westbound Interstate 84 freeway exits, are teeming with cars bearing Idaho license plates.

Idaho has a 6 percent state sales tax. Assuming the vast majority of Ontario’s sales come from Idaho customers, that’s an estimated $480,000 per month Idaho could make in sales taxes alone, not to mention whatever additional cannabis excise taxes the state would implement.

“When it comes to Boise, we send our marijuana tax money to Ontario and they send their marijuana back to us,” explains Russ Belville, spokesperson for the Idaho Citizens Coalition, the group behind the last attempt to place medical marijuana on the Idaho ballot. “We’re not stopping anyone who wants to smoke marijuana from doing so and we’re wasting a lot of money trying to stop them.”

Idaho Press: Idahoans’ support for medical marijuana has grown, but it might not be reflected in the Legislature

Ten years ago, when Bill Esbensen first began working with activists to push for some form of legal marijuana in Idaho, someone threatened to beat him up for it.

He was at a Willie Nelson concert in Boise, trying to collect signatures to get an initiative to legalize marijuana on the ballot. As he remembered it, the man who wanted to attack him for collecting signatures was probably older than 80.

“That was the attitude of people back then,” he said.

Esbensen has worked on multiple attempts to legalize medical marijuana in the decade since. Public opinion on the topic in Idaho has shifted during that time, he said on Aug. 4, citing a poll from the firm FM3 Research that shows 72% of Idahoans are in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. The poll took place in April 2019 and included 400 Idahoans.