There's something vaguely familiar about 45th Parallel. The small but inviting Ontario, Ore., shop features a large glass display case, not unlike a deli or even a candy store. But you quickly realize you have stepped through the looking glass when you look closer at the labels on Mason jars inside the case: chocolate chunk, blue dream and purple wreck (and more than a dozen other flavors of marijuana) sit alongside Rice Krispie treats laced with marijuana oils.
Since 45th Parallel opened its doors two months ago, perhaps hundreds of Idahoans have traveled to the marijuana dispensary, the only one of its kind within seven hours of the Idaho/Oregon border. We say "perhaps" because none of the current and soon-to-be customers BW spoke with wanted their names printed. There's a good reason: while each has been referred for medical marijuana by a physician, clients know they can't legally bring it back to Idaho.
Even Bill, the director of the 45th Parallel, a non-profit co-op, didn't want his last name mentioned. Though his operation is on the up and up with Oregon law enforcement and the Department of Human Services, he doesn't want any push back for himself or his relatives, one of whom is a Treasure Valley law enforcement officer.
"We know of at least 500 Idaho clients that have bought property in Oregon just in the last 60 days," said Bill. "They don't want to break the law, so this is going to be their new home. Idaho is losing residents, there's no doubt about it."
45th Parallel will only sell marijuana on consignment.
"I have pot growers who walk in here, and they want to sell it to us at street prices," said Bill. "I instantly show them the door. No. 1, we'll only sell at low prices. Marijuana is anywhere from $300 to $600 an ounce on the street. We'll sell it for $150 to $250 an ounce. We're not here to make a profit. No. 2, we will not buy directly from a grower. They must be state-approved, and we will only sell their marijuana on consignment. That's the only way they'll get paid."
Bill said Oregon State Police closed three marijuana dispensaries in Grants Pass, Ore., for buying marijuana directly from fake "growers" in a state police sting operation.
A 45th Parallel customer must first get a referral from an Oregon physician before getting an Oregon Medical Marijuana Program card, issued by Oregon Human Services.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, BW visited a special clinic held by a Portland doctor who traveled to Ontario for the specific purpose of considering OMMP referrals. He required current (no older than one year) medical records from each client. BW spoke to more than a dozen patients, almost all from Idaho. Their chronic pain was the result of the worst of medical maladies: multiple sclerosis, cancer, AIDS and major skeletal injuries. While none would reveal if they were planning to bring any marijuana back to Idaho, each was well aware of the law--possession of less than 3 ounces of marijuana in Idaho could result in a year behind bars and/or a $1,000 fine.
Moscow Republican Rep. Tom Trail wants to change that. Idahoans will soon be hearing about his new bill: the Idaho Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. Simply put, it would protect Idahoans with serious and debilitating medical conditions from arrest and prosecution for using medical marijuana under their physician's recommendation.
"I can't tell you how many Idahoans I've spoken with that take a laundry list of pain medications, each with its own side effects," said Trail. "All they want is relief from pain and some normalcy."
Trail said he's referred several dozen folks in the direction of the Ontario dispensary.
"But of course, that comes with a big asterisk," said Trail. "Once they cross the state line into Idaho, they're subject to our laws. But think of what alternative they have: buying marijuana on the street without any quality assurance."
Trail's co-sponsor on House Bill 19 is Pocatello
Republican Democrat Rep. Roy Lacey, an Eastern Idaho conservative whose district is filled with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I realize my district is very high LDS," said Lacey. "And the church may not support this yet. But I've watched too many elderly that are dependent on pain medication in the last years of their life."
Trail jumped into the faith-based conversation.
"If Jesus walked the Earth again, and walked into Idaho, and was faced with this issue, what would his answer be?" Trail asked rhetorically.
"You never know until it hits you, until it comes to your own house," said Lacey. "Pain pills do terrible, terrible things like excruciating constipation."
"When you have to undergo an industrial enema, it's unlike anything else," added Trail.
The Moscow Republican said he doesn't expect any vote on medical marijuana this legislative session but he's anxious to begin a Statehouse conversation.
"This has been bubbling under the surface for a long time," said Trail. "Everyone knows Idaho is a conservative state, but a recent statewide survey indicated that a majority of people would support a carefully crafted medical marijuana law."
But until the day Idaho joins Oregon, Washington, Montana and a dozen other states in making medical marijuana legal, scores of Idahoans living with cancer, AIDS and MS will continue to head to the border for relief.
"We had a purple heart soldier with traumatic brain injury come in here. He was on 10 different types of pain pills," said Bill.
After a long pause, he continued
"I'm sorry. I'm gonna cry."