BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Expressing firm opposition to dozens of states that have legalized marijuana in recent years, the Idaho Senate on Wednesday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit the legalization of pot and other psychoactive drugs in the state.
The Republican-dominated Senate just barely mustered the two-thirds needed to pass the measure with a 24-11 vote.
If the House approves the legislation with the required two-thirds majority, it would go before voters to decide in 2022, where it would need a simple majority.
Republicans have super-majorities in the two chambers. Some Republican senators said they voted in favor of the amendment to simply allow voters to decide.
"Senators, we have a duty to protect our children, our families, our communities from the scourge of drugs and the drug culture which we have seen go clear across this nation," Republican Sen. Scott Grow said in opening the debate on the Senate floor for the legislation he sponsored.
Backers of the amendment said it's needed because surrounding states have legalized pot and they fear that could happen in Idaho. Senators claimed states with legalized recreational marijuana have experienced a decline in health, crime increases and huge expenses that outweigh tax revenue from marijuana.
Those opposed to the constitutional amendment said it would permanently ban medical marijuana patients with terminal illnesses or chronic pain from getting the marijuana they need.
All seven of Idaho's Democratic state senators voted against the legislation, citing the need to keep medical options open for marijuana and new and experimental drugs that could help patients. They were joined by four Republicans who said they were troubled by altering the state's constitution, or felt banning marijuana would impinge on personal freedoms.
"Having lost three close family members in less than four years, I know what writhing in pain looks like," Democratic Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking said. "And I know when pain becomes too intense, and all hope has fallen off the cliff, people seek a small amount of relief and a single ray of hope. And I believe medical cannabis is a humanitarian issue, not a substance abuse issue."
Idaho is one of only three states without some sort of policy allowing residents to possess products with even low amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Residents can cross the state border in nearly every direction and find themselves in places where marijuana can be bought for recreational or medicinal purposes.
Lawmakers defeated attempts in recent years to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho. But support for medicinal marijuana use is growing in the state, with legalization activists trying to get an initiative on the ballot in 2022.
Thirty-six states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have approved comprehensive, publicly available medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Fifteen states and three territories have legalized recreational marijuana.
Neighboring Idaho states of Washington, Oregon, Montana and Nevada have legalized recreational and medical marijuana, while Utah allows medical marijuana. Oregon decriminalized the personal possession of drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine last November. Wyoming allows CBD products containing less than .3% of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.
CBD products can be purchased in Idaho, but they must contain no THC.