Hiding behind big sunglasses, I slunk to my car and started the engine. The bag containing a month’s worth of flower and edibles that I had just bought at Weedology, a legal dispensary in Ontario, Oregon was stuffed hastily into my bag; I dared not unseal it to survey the goods. Though my heart was pounding, I forced myself to cut a slow track out of the parking lot. I was about to do something illegal.
But first, a pit stop. Then a detour to the hardware store followed by a cup of tea for the road. I circled the unfamiliar town, hoping to throw them off my trail.
And by “them,” I mean Idaho State Police, who may or may not — depending on whom you ask — be interested in the fact that I was about to smuggle cannabis across a state line. My trail leads to Boise, a quickly growing city in the southwest corner of a state so deep, still, in prohibition that it’s simply not enough to boast absolute zero legal access to medical or recreational cannabis.
Cannabis decriminalization isn’t even a thing here in Idaho yet, and hemp-derived CBD exists in a quasi-legal gray area despite the 2018 Farm Bill. In January of this year, over three tons of legally-grown industrial hemp were seized while passing through Idaho, while in transit between Oregon and Colorado; the truck driver was arrested on drug trafficking charges. Reminder: this was legally grown hemp, containing less than .3 percent THC. Crazy, right?
Between 2008 and 2013, nine out of ten cannabis arrests in Idaho were for possession or consumption — not for growing, selling, or manufacturing — which indicates that Idaho cops really do (or at least recently did) give a damn about stopping everyday people from smoking weed. In fact, Idaho routinely makes the “worst of” lists when it comes to cannabis. It’s a state so anachronistically gung-ho about the failed War on Drugs that possession of up to an ounce is a misdemeanor that can still land a person in jail for a year.
And now Idaho is my new home state.
It wasn’t always this way for me. Back in San Diego, where I lived only a few months ago, legal dispensaries are a dime a dozen. Cannabis billboards grace the highways out west, while patronizing a quality dispensary fell somewhere between a fun outing and a sacred pilgrimage. There was nothing at all to hide or be ashamed of — exactly as it should be.
Moving to Idaho means that I retreated back into the cannabis closet — or put a foot back in, at any rate. I used to feel few misgivings telling people that my job includes writing about cannabis. I'm a mom, and even other mom friends and people I’d just met were cool with it. Now, when I meet someone new, I hedge. “I write about health, culture, and business,” I say — which isn’t false, but is less true and so much less fun than reality. I’d love to be open and honest with everyone, but I’m scared.
Before the trip to Oregon, it had been years since I had to sneak around to buy pot. But the alternative — other than quitting cannabis (no, thanks) — is to tap into the black market. That comes with its own set of risks, which just aren’t worth it anymore. Aside from the danger of prosecution and jail time for buying illegally, there are health risks; those products are untested, unregulated, and quite possibly contaminated with all kinds of unsavory things from pesticides to molds and fungi, and even feces. Black market vapes appear to be responsible for the much-talked about vaping crisis which has sickened hundreds of people and killed seven. At a time when clean, potent, and regulated products are readily available in many states, I’m not keen on that particular game of Russian roulette.
On the hour’s drive back to Boise, my eyes darted frequently to the rearview. Even though the speed limit on the interstate is a cool 80, I kept to 75 — fearing those blue lights more than I have in a long while. I can only guess what it would feel like if I were in a different demographic, i.e. anything but white. The ACLU has found that black Idahoans are arrested for cannabis possession in disproportionate numbers to the population — not at all shocking, given our country’s legacy of racial inequality and prejudice.
But I was nervous nonetheless; my two kids were at school, and I’d need to pick them up in a few hours. What would happen if I were detained, and how on earth would I explain it? Mom’s been arrested over a nontoxic plant that helps with headaches, anxiety, and sleep? It’s bonkers.
The truth is that while I do use cannabis medicinally, I also use it recreationally. Sometime in my 30s, I realized that alcohol feels good only at the moment of consumption; the next day sucks. When I use cannabis for fun, I rarely feel more altered than I did after a glass or two of wine because I don’t consume large quantities. I don’t drive while high, and cannabis hasn’t affected my productivity, my job, or my relationships. But I can’t imagine the straightforward truth winning over law enforcement. I admit — it’s unlikely that Idaho cops are trolling border dispensaries or keeping track of who pops over to Oregon for a bit of shopping.
But what if they are?
There’s a real irony in the fact that many Idahoans really like alcohol. Beer is the undisputed king here, even though alcohol use is associated with many more health problems than cannabis is. And the opioid crisis has not magically skipped Idaho. Since medical marijuana can be used for many chronic pain problems that drive people to opioids in the first place, it feels like this state — like all states — needs pot.
Some people, like me, are accessing it on the legal market in neighboring states and taking the risk of bringing it back. An estimated 80 percent of Idahoans now live within 90 minutes of a state that has legalized cannabis either for recreational or medical use; anecdotes abound about Boiseans filling up the Oregon border-town dispensaries. And groups like Idaho Cannabis Coalition and Legalize Idaho are trying to change things. If 55,000 signatures are collected by April of next year, a medical marijuana initiative will appear on the 2020 ballot.
If that happens, I’ll certainly vote for it. Until then, I’m keeping at least one foot in the cannabis closet.