Our own private Idaho

Smoking cannabis can be a challenge while vacationing in The Gem State with its long history of anti-cannabis laws

Shoshone Falls Park is a waterfall on the Snake River in Southern Idaho. Its cascade is 212 feet high, which is 45 feet higher than Niagara Falls.

Shoshone Falls Park is a waterfall on the Snake River in Southern Idaho. Its cascade is 212 feet high, which is 45 feet higher than Niagara Falls.

Photo by Ken Magri

“This must be some kind of a sin,” I thought, while mixing cannabis flower into an expensive jar of live resin. I worked the glob of gooey bud onto the table and showered it with kief. Now, it could be hand-shaped into tiny balls.

Why the careful preparation? A friend and I were about to drive to Idaho, one of the West’s strictest states for cannabis laws. Because we planned to smuggle in our own stash, keeping the amounts small and our activities discreet would be important.

Possession of more than 3 ounces and as much as a pound carries up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, according to Idaho NORML’s website. If less than 3 ounces, the penalty is up to one year and a $1,000 fine. Selling cannabis paraphernalia can get you nine years, and simply being caught stoned, even without possessing anything, can bring six months.

I sprinkled on more kief and put the tiny balls into a fresh jar. This mixture, along with a small pipe and two vape pens, would need to last for a week.

Idaho’s anti-cannabis history goes back to 1927, when the state acted to stop Mexican workers in the beef industry from smoking what the mayor of Boise then called “grifo,” a Spanish adjective meaning “drunk” or “high.”

As the rest of the country comes around to the idea of legalization, Idaho has stubbornly held onto its pot laws.

In 2015, the Idaho legislature tried to legalize CBD, but then-Gov. Bruce Otter vetoed the bill. A new bill, HB 140, intended to partially decriminalize possession of a half-ounce or less of THC, died in committee this year. Since 2012, three petition drives to put cannabis legalization on the Idaho ballot have failed. Another petition drive by the newly formed nonprofit Idaho Cannabis Commission was just approved in July to try to qualify a legalization initiative on the 2020 election ballot.

During our drive to Idaho, my friend and I were smart to keep our cannabis tucked away. But the barren landscape of northern Nevada can be so redundant that I finally relented and dug out a vape pen during our lunch stop in Elko. Two quick drags and a Reuben sandwich helped make the final turn north into Idaho more pleasant.

Situated at the east edge of Twin Falls, Shoshone Falls Park sure is beautiful at sunset. Like a miniature Niagara Falls, water from the Snake River cascades for 212 feet over a rounded cliff of rock formations. Throughout the trip, we chose discreet places to stop and toke. Walking along a deer trail, we lost the other park visitors, lit up the pipe and enjoyed our own private Idaho.

While staying in hotels, we resorted to the time-tested method of smoking pot in the bathroom. Steaming it up with hot water from the shower dissipated the smoke. But we also brought an empty toilet-paper roll and scented dryer sheets. Exhaling cannabis hits through a cardboard tube stuffed with dryer sheets made the pot smoke smell like fresh laundry.

In Shoshone, we got our first clue that locals aren’t much different than ourselves. Inside the Manhattan Café, the waiter leaned in and said, “I really like your stickers.” He was commenting on the numerous cannabis ads covering my iPad case.

In the twin cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, signs of cannabis acceptance were numerous. Known for their ski resorts, restaurants and affluent tourists, these side-by-side towns operate on a different economic system than the state’s agricultural-based cities.

Vape pens out at the Nevada-Idaho line. Nevada is one of five states bordering Idaho that have legalized either medicinal or recreational cannabis.

Photo by Ken Magri

We saw cannabis-themed stockings and fridge magnets in local souvenir shops. Visitors could purchase stickers with “Sun Valley Idaho” printed over a pot leaf. Even more cannabis stickers from visiting tourists dotted the backs of street signs in Ketchum, yards away from Ernest Hemingway’s legendary drinking spot, the Casino bar.

“If you look at it economically, cannabis is all around us,” said Steven, a local resident who works in the international travel industry and declined to give his last name. He said that five of the six states bordering Idaho have some form of legalized cannabis. “Why aren’t we taking in that revenue, too?” he asked.

So, how does a visitor score cannabis in Idaho?

“It’s not a problem here,” Steven said. “Don’t you have a jet?” He joked, referring to the flock of private jets at nearby Hailey Airport, where the rich and well-connected can fly in anything they want, without fear of TSA inspections.

Steven added that marijuana can be purchased on the black market in Idaho, but “you have to know someone,” he said.

That means tourists and many Idaho residents must acquire cannabis from outside the state and drive it over the border. We heard that Idahoans returning from California like to stop at the Nabodoka Dispensary in Lovelock, Nevada. Located at the back corner of town on the Paiute Reservation, this Native-American-owned store is the last chance to buy recreational cannabis when traveling east on Interstate 80.

Adrian, the budtender at Nabadoka, said that Nevada cannabis products must remain in sealed packages while being transported and must be consumed in-state.

Back in Idaho, the front page of Boise’s daily newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, reported that the first of 14 new cannabis dispensaries had opened in Ontario, Oregon, a city of 11,000 people. Ontario doesn’t need that many dispensaries. But it is located right across the border, and plans to welcome customers from Boise, Nampa and Caldwell, Idaho cities with a combined population of almost 450,000.

“Ontario is going to be a very competitive market,” Weedology dispensary manager, Eric Lantz, said in the Statesman article. In its first three hours of business, Lantz reported that Weedology served more than 200 customers.

The 90-minute drive from Boise to Ontario is 29 miles closer than Huntington, Oregon, a town of 440 people that voted to authorize two dispensaries in 2015, then imposed a 3% sales tax. Since then, Huntington has skimmed enough revenue from Idaho customers to pay down its general obligation bonds and plan for city improvements.

Now Ontario hopes to have the same success. Community Development Director Dan Cummings estimates his city will raise $600,000 to $1 million a year in tax revenues, according to the Idaho State Journal.

While driving back home, we crossed back into Nevada, and turned onto a dirt road south of Jackpot. Away from the highway, this desolate landscape of sage and volcanic rock was the perfect place to smoke a bowl.

“Hey, check out this rusted root beer can with a pull-tab opening,” said my friend. As we searched the ground for more 20th century relics, a few drops of rain suggested that we get back to the truck and head home to Sacramento.

For those who take cannabis legalization for granted, Idaho’s recalcitrant attitude against pot serves as a gut check. Our constant worrying and looking over our shoulders was a reminder of a not-too-distant lifestyle we once endured in California, that of being decent, law-abiding citizens, except for our use of cannabis.

Idaho’s high desert plains and jagged mountains certainly have their appeal, and we were happy to spend money exploring it. But for the sake of our paranoia, next time we’ll drive to Colorado.