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BOISE, Idaho – In Idaho, old perceptions remain true: the potatoes are plentiful, the landscape is lovely and the population is reliably Republican. But in the last year, the state has gained a reputation for a different reason. While states in the Northwest have been at the forefront of the national movement to legalize pot, Idaho has held firm.
Five of the six states surrounding Idaho permit some form of legal marijuana use. Insistent that it won’t be joining them, Idaho lawmakers passed a resolution last year vowing to oppose the legalization of marijuana in any form, even medical. But the state’s rigid position is wavering, under pressure from an unlikely campaigner.
The potential pot cure?
Seven-year-old Kannon Muldoon can’t speak. The young, bright-eyed boy has a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, which causes him severe, sometimes hourslong seizures.
“Kannon doesn’t sing anymore,” said Brandi Muldoon, his mother. “Kannon doesn’t say the alphabet anymore. Kannon doesn’t feed himself anymore.”
At birth, Kannon seemed healthy. When he was a few months old, he began having short seizures. But when he turned 4, he suffered a seizure that lasted more than three hours and left him with severe brain damage.
“Essentially what that did for Kannon, is … it basically wiped out his little hard drive,” Kannon’s mother said. “He came home from the hospital fully catatonic with a feeding tube in his nose.”
Muldoon said her son lives on borrowed time; she never knows when he might have his next seizure. What’s worse, she said, is that he’s on a cocktail of toxic drugs that will never cure him.
“We might as well be pouring pesticide down his throat,” Muldoon said.
Her son is also the one person who might be able to convince Idaho’s lawmakers to change their minds. Kannon’s best hope to slow down or even stop his seizures could be an oil specifically derived from marijuana plants. It’s known as CBD oil and has a very low amount of THC – the component in cannabis that produces a high. While the treatment is still undergoing clinical trials, some studies have shown that it’s very effective on children who suffer from severe epilepsy.
“We’ve had case histories of people in our Dravet [syndrome] community that were having 300 seizures a week. And now they’re down to one,” said Muldoon.
She said with this oil, Kannon could get his life back.
“I don’t want to get Kannon high,” his mother said. “What I do believe in is him having every medical advantage he can possibly have. I'm trying to save his life.”
But that means convincing Idaho lawmakers to backtrack on their vow and embrace marijuana, at the exact moment they’re seeing the negative side of the drug trafficked across their borders.
As Idaho State Trooper Kenny Walker prepared for his Friday night patrol, he’s faced with a tough task. For a long time, Idaho hadn’t been exposed to many marijuana-related arrests, he said. But that’s changed in recent years. According to Idaho State Police, the number of marijuana-related seizures jumped almost fivefold between 2011 and 2013.
“I think a lot of people in this state are very naive to what's happening … as far as stuff coming across our borders,” said Walker, a four-year veteran of the force.
“It may be OK in Washington, Colorado or Oregon,” Walker said. “Not in our state.”
When Walker makes these arrests, he said he’s enforcing the criminalization of marijuana that people in his state hold dear.
“We’re concerned about our kids,” explained State Sen. Chuck Winder, who sponsored the resolution opposing any legalization of marijuana. Winder is worried that the legalization of marijuana would have a similar trickle-down effect to when alcohol was legalized.
"It gets more exposure to younger people," Winder said. "It's easier to get.”
The state’s demographics help explain why movements to legalize marijuana have never gained any traction in Idaho. The state has the second largest Mormon population in the country, with almost a quarter of Idahoans belonging to the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to a February Gallup poll.
“It’s one of the most conservative states in the union by any metric you want to use,” said Gary Moncrief, a political science professor at Boise State University.
The Mormon population is overrepresented in the Legislature, he added, making up about 35 percent of state lawmakers.
The state also has a large number of people who call themselves Libertarian – but Moncrief said many of them are socially conservative in Idaho, "a traditionally agrarian, rural state."
Winder said he’s not backing away from the resolution, but may consider a narrow exception for CBD oil – an exception that Utah made earlier this year.
But for the Muldoons, time is of the essence. Kannon’s mother is planning on visiting state senators to tell them about her son and them to consider an exception to their hardline anti-pot stance.
Meanwhile, Winder told America Tonight that another lawmaker is drafting a law that would allow an exception for CBD oil. But he said he’s not sure if he’ll vote for it.
For now, Muldoon is challenging to Idaho’s lawmakers: “Come spend a day with [my son]. See why it’s necessary. Come hang out with me in the hospital.”
“I don’t now when the next seizure is going to be the last, ” she said.