Idaho authorities: Medical marijuana rights from neighboring states not recognized

ST. ANTHONY, Idaho – Idaho law enforcement officials statewide have a simple message for medical marijuana users with valid permits from neighboring states: Don’t expect any legal leniency if caught with the drug in the Gem State.

Idaho is not a medical marijuana state, but is bordered by states like Washington, Oregon and Montana with medical marijuana laws on the books. Idaho also does not recognize the legal rights those states give to patients to buy and possess small amounts for health reasons.

While arrests of out-of-state medical marijuana clients is rare, police in eastern Idaho are reporting a slight increase in the number of Montana motorists pulled over for speeding and traffic violations who are also being charged for having marijuana in their vehicles.

“Some of the deputies are having fun with medical marijuana coming out of Montana,” Fremont County Sherriff Department Chief Deputy Kurt Hillman told county leaders this week.

Last week alone, the Rexburg Standard Journal reported four Montana motorists were charged in Fremont County with possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia. While some of those charged have medical marijuana permits, Idaho officials say they still face criminal charges because those permits are only valid in the state issued or other states where they are recognized.

Idaho doesn’t have a single database tracking drug arrests of out-of-state medical marijuana clients. But law enforcement officials in other corners of the state say such arrests are rare – even in northern Idaho, where Montana and Washington are separated by less than 80 miles along Interstate 90.

Kootenai County Sheriff Lt. Stuart Miller said of the 467 drug or paraphernalia arrests made by the department last year, only 13 were attributed to Montana residents. Of those, it’s unclear how many had a Montana permit to possess the drug.

Lt. Paul Kwiatkowski of the Moscow Police Department said medical marijuana users tend to be well educated about the rules and unwilling to take risks in states like Idaho. He said the cases they do see involve small amounts, typically an ounce or less, an amount that qualifies for a misdemeanor under Idaho code.

“Most people won’t travel with their marijuana,” said Kwiatkowski, a veteran officer in the college town that sits near the Washington border.

Still, police in eastern Idaho are offering some free advice to Montana motorists: Heed the speed limit and Idaho’s other traffic laws. Hillman said pulling a driver over even for a traffic violation opens the door to look for other misdeeds.

Speeding or other simple violations are often the cause of traffic stops, Hillman said, which give deputies opportunity to look for other violations of the law with probable cause.

“They need to slow down, especially if they’re packing (pot),” Hillman said.

The sentence in Idaho for first time misdemeanor possession is five to 10 days in jail.