Friday, January 11, 2013

Blaine County GOP votes to legalize pot

Nonbinding resolution states it would eliminate ‘black market’

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Republicans approved a resolution in support of legalized marijuana during a meeting Tuesday night, but many area Republicans say legalization won’t solve the valley’s drug problems.

The resolution, introduced by precinct Committeeman Mike Conner, was approved with only two votes against during the local party’s monthly meeting at the Senior Connection in Hailey. However radical it may be, the resolution has no legal effect.

Unlike previous pieces of legislation introduced in the Legislature over the past two years by Republican Rep. Tom Trail of Moscow, which would have legalized marijuana only for medical use, the county GOP’s resolution is in support of legalizing all use.

Many supporters of the resolution did not return calls from the Idaho Mountain Express. However, Randy Patterson, mayor of Carey and Carey precinct committeeman, said he supported the resolution because of his Libertarian background.

“Marijuana is not a criminal issue, it’s a moral issue,” he said. “I parallel it with alcohol. Prohibition of alcohol didn’t work, and prohibition of marijuana isn’t working.” 

The resolution states that national enforcement of marijuana laws have been largely ineffective, resulting only in the incarceration of users.

“[T]he failed prohibition of marijuana has exhausted billions of dollars spent on ineffective or incomplete enforcement,” it states. “The Blaine County GOP believes that the time has come to amend criminal prohibition and replace it with a system of legalization and education.”

Sun Valley Precinct Committeeman Steven Poindexter said he voted against the resolution, but said supporters contended that legalizing and regulating marijuana would reduce its use.

Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey said he was strongly against the resolution, even though he’s a member of the Republican Party.

“This is kind of like saying we can’t stop everyone speeding, so let’s do away with speed limits,” he said. “You make a dent where you can. Personally and from a law enforcement perspective, I can’t support legalization.”

Ramsey said the valley gets “quite a bit of marijuana,” adding that much of it comes from California, where medical marijuana is legal.

The resolution states that marijuana sales should be regulated and taxed, though it does not specify how those taxes would be carried out.

It also encourages strict penalties for “illegal trafficking” and impaired driving. Such penalties would eliminate the “lucrative black market” and allow the drug’s price to be regulated by the free market, it says.

Patterson said there would be age limits on the purchase of marijuana, and that legalizing it would not necessarily cause a rise in use.

“If it’s legalized, am I going to go smoke marijuana? No,” he said. “It’s a moral issue.”

Poindexter said one of the arguments made at the meeting in favor of the resolution was that the federal government has too much power, and the states should be able to decide whether to legalize marijuana.

However, he said his brand of Republican politics does not go that far regarding states’ rights.

“There are [federal] laws in place, and there have to be guidelines, otherwise you have a society with no rules and no laws,” he said. “If you start with pot, where do you go from there?”

Patterson said the resolution would be brought before the state Republican Party at its summer meeting in McCall. If it’s passed, state party leaders would attempt to find legislative sponsorship for a bill in the 2014 legislative session.

Joshua Whitworth, executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, said the state platform does not include a position on marijuana legalization. He added that Blaine County is the only county whose party has passed a resolution in support of the issue.

“In the past, that has been something of an issue in the area,” he said, referring to the city of Hailey’s voting in 2009 to allow the use of medical marijuana, to legalize industrial hemp and to make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest police priority.

Large portions of all three ordinances were redacted by 5th District Judge Robert Elgee, rendering them ineffective—though the third remains a city policy.

Whitworth said he’s not sure why most marijuana initiatives seem to be coming from Republicans, but said the “demographic” of Blaine County and recreational nature of the Wood River Valley likely had something to do with this particular resolution.

Ramsey said he, too, believes that the recreational aspect of the valley encourages valley youth to view drug use more casually.

“They see some people come here on vacation who recreate, and [the youth] think, ‘Hey, life’s a party!’” he said. “People call [marijuana] a recreational drug, but it’s an introduction to other drugs.”

Kate Wutz:


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