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Idaho braces for battle over legalizing medical marijuana

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Marijuana plants are displayed for sale at Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Anthony
Marijuana plants are displayed for sale at Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington, November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Anthony

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Idaho, a state known more for growing potatoes than marijuana, is bracing for a battle to legalize medical marijuana, as a growing number of U.S. states permit pot for both health and recreational use.

The Idaho Senate on Monday made its position clear with a 29-5 vote against allowing marijuana for even medical uses in the conservative state. The resolution, which will now go to the state House of Representatives, is only a political gesture. Marijuana is already illegal under both state and federal law.

Proponents of liberalized pot laws - spearheaded by a group called Compassionate Idaho - told senators last week they were working on a medical marijuana initiative they hope to place on the state ballot next year.

Eighteen states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana for medical use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In November, Washington state and Colorado went a step further and voters approved legalizing pot for recreational use.

Chuck Winder, assistant majority leader of the Republican-led Senate, told lawmakers on Monday that the anti-marijuana measure he crafted was vital to ensuring the safety of Idaho residents, especially children.

Republicans also hold a majority in the state House.

While the majority of Idaho senators on Monday expressed staunch opposition to legalization of marijuana in the state, some local officials and political leaders in the more liberal-leaning Sun Valley area have pushed to relax marijuana laws.

"It chases ghosts that haven't appeared yet in anticipation that they might," Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett of the affluent resort community of Ketchum said of the resolution. She said the measure was dismissive of those who rely on marijuana to provide relief from pain and other chronic health conditions.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)

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