Cannabis Crusader 

Boise man champions marijuana laws in Blaine County

For the last four years, one Boise resident has turned Blaine County into a lawsuit-fueled marijuana battleground.

Ryan Davidson has been a thorn in the side of city officials in Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey since he began his campaign to legalize marijuana in one of Idaho's Democratic strongholds. It started with the 30-year-old's desire to make politics a career and a chance discovery of the Marijuana Policy Project's grant program.

He was awarded a $60,000 grant, but less than a month later, the group pulled his funding after giving him only $16,000.

Still, in the last four years, he took all three cities to court numerous times, managed to get four pro-marijuana initiatives on the ballot—three of which were passed by voters last year—and is now threatening to put all four initiatives back on the May primary ballot in an effort to force city officials to enact them.

The fact that the initiatives violate both state and federal law hasn't seemed to faze him. In fact, he's preparing for another round of lawsuits under the auspices of the Idaho Liberty Lobby, his one-man Libertarian juggernaut.

It seems an unlikely path for a Canadian native who didn't move to the United States until 1995. But his largely self-funded fight is far from typical—especially considering Davidson doesn't smoke marijuana himself, doesn't seem to care all that much about it, and had never been to the Wood River Valley before starting his campaign.

It's the principle he said he's fighting for. He has lost several major lawsuits, had damages slapped on him by a Blaine County District Court for filing a frivolous lawsuit, and nearly pushed himself into bankruptcy, but one Idaho Supreme Court victory allowed him to get his initiatives passed.

Now, as the City of Ketchum is threatening to sue itself over the legality of those initiatives, Davidson sat down with BW to offer some insight into his thought process.

BW: What got you involved in these issues in the first place?

Ryan Davidson: I thought it had the potential to be a good career for a while—at least for the next couple years—going from city to city doing local ballot initiatives, sort of paving the way to do a state initiative some time in the future.

What went wrong?

Well, we handed in the preliminary petition to all three cities, and all three cities refused to process it, surprisingly, because their own city code [and] state code says you hand the clerk a petition, they certify it, they hand it back to you. There's nothing in there that they can look at the substance of the petition.

What did you do?

I basically filed lawsuits against all three cities ... I knew no attorney would take this case, we had no money, we were broke, we were stranded up there ... so it's like, "I'm going to do it myself." [I] didn't know what I was doing, I had never filed a lawsuit against anyone before. [I] played around in traffic court quite a bit, but that's a different thing. So, I filed a lawsuit against Ketchum in Idaho Supreme Court, I filed a lawsuit against Sun Valley in the local District Court, and then I filed a lawsuit against Hailey in the federal court under the Civil Rights Act. I kind of figured, three different courts, one of them is bound to pay off.

Why did you take it this far?

I did this not for marijuana, I did this for the initiatives process ... For me, as an initiatives proponent ... I see the harm that befalls initiative sponsors by having to go through litigation before you can even get your initiative on the ballot.

Litigation is like the death of the initiatives process, and if the court or the government makes it so that your opponents can take you to court before you can even get the initiative on the ballot, it kills you, and it means that only people with a lot of money that can survive a legal challenge can ever get an initiative on the ballot. So I just saw that as a huge policy issue that we need to take litigation and this kind of crap out of the initiatives process.

How have you been funding all of this?

Just out of my own pocket. I work a low-paying job at a hospital and I spend a lot of time on these lawsuits ... so I'm just poor.

Why marijuana law in particular?

As a Libertarian, I basically disagree with the war on drugs in general. I think in a perfect world, in a free country, Americans should have the right to decide what they want to put in their bodies, if that's marijuana or heroine, that's their choice ... You have all these other states that are legalizing medical marijuana. It's pretty much a no-brainer to say marijuana should be legal. That really appealed to me as a Libertarian. It had never really been a huge issue on my radar, but I kind of care about just limiting government in general, but the opportunity to do that as a career was the most appealing thing to me.

Why did you push forward when you knew what you were asking was illegal?

The most important thing to me was that the people be able to make a statement. If you have a city that's voting to say we should tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol and tobacco, even if you never get a valid law over it, the statement is huge. And it sends a message to the legislators who represent those cities, who can actually change things at the state level. So if you have city after city saying we want to legalize marijuana, eventually the legislature's going to have little choice but to give the people what they want.

Are you working on other issues?

I'd kind of like to retire from this issue pretty soon. Actually, I have more interest in the initiative process right now and there are a number of laws that need to be clarified, that the court needs to clarify, so I may be bringing other lawsuits to clarify the city and county initiatives process.

Will you stick with this case?

If [the cities] do file the lawsuit, somebody needs to intervene as a party and say this lawsuit is bullshit, you can't have the city suing itself where both sides want the same outcome. That would take up a lot of my time. I'd probably be willing to do that, then campaign a little bit for the initiatives in May, if that actually still happens. But after that, I need to move on to stuff that puts food on my table.

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