Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pot committee breaks new ground

Members agree to research medical uses

Express Staff Writer

The first order of business for Hailey's Marijuana Oversight Committee will be to explore the legalities of using marijuana for medical reasons.

Several committee members have personal reasons to consider the legal use of medical marijuana. And the issue may get help at the state level this winter from Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow.

The Marijuana Oversight Committee was formed earlier this year after three controversial marijuana initiatives were passed by Hailey voters. The initiatives allowed the use of marijuana for medical purposes, legalized industrial hemp and called for placing enforcement of marijuana laws as the lowest priority for Hailey police.

The city delayed implementing the ordinances until Mayor Rick Davis, Councilman Don Kiern and Police Chief Jeff Gunter filed a lawsuit against the city in May, claiming that the new laws were unconstitutional.

As a result, portions of all three ordinances were redacted by 5th District Judge Robert Elgee. But sections of those ordinances remain, including a call to form a community oversight committee. Seven committee members have been appointed—one by the mayor, one by the police chief and four by the City Council. The seventh was appointed by the Liberty Lobby, which launched the city's marijuana initiative process.

The committee is charged with gathering information and making recommendations to the City Council on how the city should handle several issues regarding marijuana policy.

On Monday night, the committee selected Peter Lobb as chairman, Joanie Allen as vice chairwoman and Hailey Police Lt. Steve England as secretary. Peter Kramer, Jim Spinelli, Tom Hickey and Frank Halverson are also on the committee.

Halverson did not attend the meeting and England left early to make another appointment.

Allen suggested that the committee conduct research into Elgee's decision to gut the three marijuana ordinances.

"I'd like to know what state law kept the city of Hailey from doing what the people of Hailey think is right," she said.

After some discussion of public meeting practices with City Administrator Heather Dawson and City Attorney Ned Williamson, the committee decided to focus on the use of medical marijuana as its first priority.

"My father used marijuana while he was dying from cancer in 1982, but there was no law enabling him," Kramer said.

Allen, Spinelli, Lobb and Hickey also said they had friends who had used marijuana for pain associated with severe illnesses. They all expressed support for laws allowing for such uses.

"I have a friend with muscular sclerosis who uses it for appetite and for sleep," Hickey said.

Elgee ruled that a provision in the Medical Marijuana Act, passed by Hailey voters last summer, represents an attempt to pre-empt state law and is therefore illegal. The provision allowed possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana for use by seriously ill people with a doctor's consent.

State Rep. Tom Trail has hopes to change Idaho law in this regard. Trail said in an interview that he has been following the Hailey marijuana initiatives from his office in Moscow. He said he will introduce a medical marijuana initiative to the Idaho State Legislature in January.

"The bill is based on similar legislation that passed in Washington, Montana, Oregon, Nevada and Hawaii," he said. "Those state legislations all started with groundswells of support from local city governments."

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