Idahoans Travel to Oregon for Cannabis

Although this country is called the United States of America, each individual state is far from united when it comes to statewide cannabis policies. While all West Coast states have fully legal cannabis, it’s an entirely different story for the East Coast states and a wildly different story for the Gulf Coast states. One state may have strict prohibitionist laws set in place that will incarcerate people for simple non-violent possession while a neighboring state allows their citizens and visitors to purchase ounces of cannabis and quarter ounces of concentrate in a single day.

In Texas, where cannabis reform won’t become a true reality as long as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick is in office, the state’s medical cannabis program is insultingly limited in terms of both products and qualifying conditions to have safe and legal access to cannabis. And with the recent decriminalization measures that certain cities and counties in Texas are implementing, how strictly the state’s cannabis policy will be enforced is convoluted all the way down to what county your cannabis possession case occurs in and officer discretion. Still, most legal professionals would agree cannabis possession outside of the limited medical program is highly against the state constitution.

However in the neighboring state of New Mexico, recreational cannabis has been legal since April of 2022 and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham supported the legislation to legalize cannabis to the point of calling a special legislative session to vote on the bill. Consumers can purchase up to two ounces of flower and the industry generated $300 million in the first year of recreational sales. For a state with only 2.1 million citizens, that number of total retail sales seems astronomically high.

Even for someone who doesn’t have their Master’s degree in Economics, the reason that this number is so high is fairly obvious and it’s not that New Mexican cannabis consumers are smoking more than Willie, Snoop and Wiz Khalifa combined. The likely reason is due to the still very strict policies regarding cannabis prohibition in the states that neighbor New Mexico. While Arizona and Colorado have both had recreational cannabis for years now, Utah certainly doesn’t have adult-use legalized.

Although Oklahoma’s medical cannabis program is certainly more robust than its own neighboring states, recreational cannabis is still prohibited and Oklahoman consumers may have to consider a road trip to New Mexico. And as mentioned above, the policies on cannabis in Texas won’t be changing anytime in the near future if Lt. Governor Patrick continues to reign. Therefore, the cannabis consumers among the nearly 30 million people that live in Texas will need to travel to New Mexico for recreational cannabis.

Another state farther north is experiencing a similar situation. Idaho, a large state with just under 2 million people, is undeniably stronger in their prohibitionist views and legislative actions than Texas. Whereas Texas has at least an inkling of a medical cannabis program, Idaho has no such program. And although a number of Texas cities have either decriminalized cannabis in small amounts or the district attorneys themselves have decided they won’t prosecute low-level cannabis offenses, no such local ordinances or progressive DA’s exist in any Idaho cities. Even if someone were to have a legitimate medical purpose, any cannabis possession under three ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. If someone is caught in possession of above 3 ounces, that offense instantly becomes a felony which is punishable by up to 5 years in state prison.

Fully recreational cannabis in Idaho seems highly unlikely anytime soon and it shouldn’t be surprising if states in the Deep South legalize before their very northern ally in the clearly failed prohibition against cannabis. Although the measure eventually failed, the Idaho Legislature tried  to put a provision in their state constitution to prevent the legalization of cannabis and other substances on the Controlled Substances List without the approval of two-thirds of the Idaho Legislature.

However, the strictly prohibitionist government of Idaho is facing an issue with their far more liberal neighbor, Oregon. On the Oregon side of the Idaho/Oregon border, there’s a couple different dispensaries right on the border with one of the most notable being in Ontario, Oregon. While it’s technically illegal by federal law, plenty of Idahoans are venturing into Oregon to purchase cannabis. Boise is only an hour drive from the Oregon border and for South Idaho, there’s a dispensary located only one mile from the Idaho border in Jackpot, Nevada.

One of the prominent dispensaries on the Oregon border is Hotbox Farms. The store’s owner Steven Meland opened the dispensary in Ontario once the city allowed for recreational cannabis sales and Meland is clearly not oblivious to where a decent amount of his business comes from.

“The politicians have been able to have this scenario where they say that they don’t have legal cannabis,” Meland told NPR. “But in all actuality we all know there’s legal cannabis in Boise.” he said.

The location of Ontario is interesting as while there’s only about 12,000 people in Oregon, Idaho’s most populous area is just across the border. Treasure Valley, which contains the state capital of Boise and Meridian and Eagle, contains over 700,000 people and about 40 percent of Idaho’s population.

In total, nine different dispensaries have been opened in Ontario. Politico estimated in 2021 that in the city with fewer citizens than entire neighborhoods of larger cities, Ontario will generate $120-$130 million for the year. That estimate alone shows precisely how much of the city’s cannabis sales come from bordering states with cannabis prohibition still in place.

Until the state implements any sort of reform however, the problem of cannabis coming in from other states will continue to be an increasingly widespread issue for Idaho even more so than Texas. Because Texas shares a border with only one state that has recreational cannabis, the issue will likely remain a mild issue for everyone that aren’t the law enforcement officers of those neighboring counties. However with Idaho, this prohibitionist powerhouse of a stronghold shares a border with four different states with recreational cannabis in place (Montana, Washington, Oregon and Nevada), meaning that their futile fight against recreational cannabis will continue to be an issue that is supposedly “invading” from all fronts.







Aaron Pelley

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