Marijuana activists in Idaho have received permission to begin collecting signatures for an initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state by 2022.

Good Idaho, the campaign behind the measure, announced Monday that it had received an official petition from the Secretary of State.

But it is also happening against a backdrop of legislative complications, with lawmakers considering a resolution to amend the state constitution to prevent Idaho from implementing legalization through this measure or a separate proposal for a recreational marijuana rule, which activists also want to bring to a vote in the interim.

Another sticking point in the activists’ plans is the medical cannabis bill that recently went before a House committee. The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan duo of representatives, is expected to have serious limitations and its passage could hurt the campaign by giving voters the impression that the state already has an effective cannabis patient program.

Regardless, Good Idaho is moving ahead and expects to have enough time to collect enough valid signatures to get on the ballot next year. Activists tried to get an identical version of the 2020 ballot initiative, but they put the campaign on hold because of complications with the coronavirus pandemic and couldn’t get approval for an electronic petition they said would have qualified them.

The campaign now has until May 1, 2022, to collect approximately 65,000 valid signatures to gain voting rights.

Under this proposal, qualified patients would be allowed to purchase and possess up to four ounces of marijuana. People “in trouble” could also grow up to six plants.

The initiative lists 12 conditions under which a patient can benefit from medicinal cannabis, but it also covers any terminal illness or serious chronic condition. The State Department of Health may add additional conditions at its discretion.

This would be much more than the bill recently introduced by the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee. This legislation, the Sergeant Kitzhaber Medical Cannabis Act, named after an Army veteran with terminal cancer, would not technically legalize marijuana, but would move it to a lower control group in state law and give patients and caregivers certain protections.

Patients who qualify for the Medical Cannabis Program would have access to the product only with a prescription. And the bill would impose a limit of 2 grams of THC per month.

Watch Monday’s discussion and vote in committee on the Medical Cannabis Legalization Act below:

In their article, Ilana Rubel (D) and Mike Kingsley (R), sponsors of the bill, say they “agree that Idaho residents should not become criminals in search of safer and better treatment.”

“Thirty-six states have legalized medical marijuana, and 22 of them have not opted out of recreational marijuana,” they wrote, “many of them being red states like Ohio, Utah, Oklahoma and Missouri, which have found a way to give patients the treatment they need without the appearance of obnoxious marijuana dispensaries and without children having access to marijuana.”

Learn more about our impartial medical cannabis operation. Here’s what’s going on. 36 states have done it, the vast majority of Idaho citizens support it, and people are suffering. #idleg

– Ilana Rubel (@IlanaRubel) February 1, 2021

While proponents object to the restrictive nature of the legislation, perhaps more troubling is what will happen if the legislature passes a separate resolution that has already passed the Senate and been referred to the House Committee on State Affairs.

If the House of Representatives approves the measure, it will put before voters in 2022 a proposed constitutional amendment that will prevent the state from legalizing cannabis and other controlled substances. And even if the activist-led reform initiative were also defeated, the constitutional amendment would prevail, regardless of how much leeway a measure ultimately receives.

Approval of the ballot resolution would be “a very serious threat to any effort to get to a vote in Idaho,” said Russ Belville, a spokesman for the lobbying group Idaho Citizens Coalition. “If the constitutional ban wins, it will overshadow everything we do in health care, so it’s paramount for us to win the ban before the election.

The resolution states that “the manufacture, production, transportation, sale, delivery, distribution, possession or use of psychoactive substances shall not be permitted in the State of Idaho.”

An exception is made for substances approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but in fact, the goal is to have a medical cannabis program similar to those used in other legal states.

A separate measure to put adult legalization on the ballot, passed by another group of activists, would also be repealed if voters approve the constitutional initiative.

Mr. Belville noted that the same Idaho Senate that passed the prohibition resolution recently passed legislation that removed Epidiolex, a cannabis-derived drug, from the state’s list of Schedule V drugs, making it no longer covered by state law as marijuana.

“Of course, if you take the CBD from the plant and put it in a barcoded product that costs $32,500 a year, it’s medicinal. But if you leave it in a plant that someone can grow themselves, it’s a little dangerous,” he said.

The GOP member acknowledges that legalizing marijuana will reduce demand for this illegal product.

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