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Here’s one state praising White House crackdown on marijuana: Idaho

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter last month urged President Donald Trump to enforce the federal law that bans all pot sales.
Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter last month urged President Donald Trump to enforce the federal law that bans all pot sales. AP

The White House pledge to crack down on states that sell marijuana for recreational use could mark a big win for Idaho, whose officials have grown weary of pot illegally crossing its borders from neighboring states.

Three of the eight states that allow the drug to be used for recreational purposes – Washington, Oregon and Nevada – share boundaries with Idaho, prompting GOP Gov. Butch Otter to complain last month that the state had become a “virtual island of compliance” in following federal law banning all pot use.

“Among the most pressing concerns facing Idaho, both from the criminal and public health standpoints, is the utter lack of consistency displayed by the Obama administration in enforcement of federal marijuana laws,” Otter said in a letter to President Donald Trump.

We are entitled to have our own view and our own law on these matters,. And the other states have gone another direction — that’s entirely up to them, but I think they’re going to be sorry they did.

Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch

On Thursday, the White House signaled that it would side with Idaho and other states that oppose marijuana legalization, announcing that it would seek to put an end to state-sanctioned plans that allow pot to be taxed and sold for recreational use.

Seven of the eight states that allow recreational marijuana backed Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, including Washington state, which is ready to fight Trump if he follows through with his threat. The other states that voted blue are California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon.

Several states have adopted new rules on the use of recreational and medicinal marijuana in several states, with more than half now allowing for the latter. Is this the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition?

Alaska is the only state that permits the recreational use of marijuana whose voters backed Trump.

In Idaho, a solidly red state, news of the crackdown came as good news.

“The governor welcomes any effort that seeks to consistently enforce our federal laws,” Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian, said Friday.

Despite what the governor thinks, a federal crackdown would not be good for Idaho. Demand for and use of marijuana is not going to disappear.

Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group

Legalization backers criticized the state’s governor and said he was making a mistake.

“It’s a bigoted response – he clearly does not like marijuana or the people who he associates with it,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group. “He’d certainly never argue that we should prohibit alcohol, yet alcohol is a far more dangerous substance than marijuana.”

And Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, another group that backs legalization, said Idaho should “join its neighbors in legalizing and regulating the supply of cannabis.”

“Despite what the governor thinks, a federal crackdown would not be good for Idaho,” he said. “Demand for and use of marijuana is not going to disappear. It’ll just be the case that 100 percent of the marijuana consumed will be unregulated and untested, and it’ll largely be supplied by cartels and gangs.”

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against the state of Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. Nebraska and Oklahoma both complained that pot was being smuggled across their borders from Colorado.

In his letter to Trump, Otter said Idaho was “paying the price” for complying with the federal law while neighboring states were allowed to ignore it.

And in the same letter, Elisha Figueroa, administrator of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy, noted that states could not violate federal environmental laws just because they voted to do so. “Why then are states being allowed to violate drug laws that have enormous negative consequences for neighboring states?”

Last week, Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch said he backed Otter’s call for enforcement, noting that both “the law and the culture make us very different from the states that have legalized marijuana.”

“We are entitled to have our own view and our own law on these matters,” Risch said. “And the others states have gone another direction – that’s entirely up to them, but I think they’re going to be sorry they did.”

The issue of marijuana crossing state lines is hardly a new one for states.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against the state of Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. Nebraska and Oklahoma both complained that pot was being smuggled across their borders from Colorado.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s remarks marked the first major announcement regarding marijuana policy from the Trump administration.

He told reporters that the Department of Justice would pursue enforcement of the federal law against recreational marijuana use, while allowing states to continue selling pot for medical use. The Obama administration had allowed states to operate without fear of federal interference, so long as they did a good job of policing themselves.

“I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement,” Spicer said. “Because again there’s a big difference between the medical use ... that’s very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”

Risch said that Washington state’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012 caused some confusion among Idahoans.

“After they did this, there were some very unsophisticated people in Idaho who thought if they went over there and legally bought something that they could bring it back to Idaho, and that’s simply not the case,” Risch said. “People should understand that the law is different in Idaho than it is in these other states.”

Tvert, who’s based in Denver and helped lead the drive to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado, said that Idaho and other states without legal marijuana are only making it harder for others to “eliminate underground activity,” causing a bigger public health and safety issue.

“The problem when it comes to interstate trafficking is not states like Colorado,” he said. “It’s states like Idaho that are doing absolutely nothing to control the sale and production of marijuana in their state.”

Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-6154, @HotakainenRob

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