John Belville, Canyon County, Idaho

John Belville, 77, took an unusual path to becoming the Chief Petitioner for the medical cannabis initiative in Idaho that is currently gathering signatures. John had become a drug and alcohol counselor in his forties, after a career as a musician traveling with various famous and not so famous bands.

Joh Belville, Idaho Cannabis CoalitionIn 1974, he returned to Idaho to raise his own family, but his drug and alcohol abuse was running his life. In 1982, at the age of 40, he entered inpatient treatment and got sober. Three years later, he returned to college and completed a degree in Social Work and a minor in Abnormal Psychology at Boise State University. John worked with clients for 14 years until health problems forced an early retirement.

Those health problems were numerous and life threatening. He nearly died from complications due to diabetes and a double femoral artery blockage in both legs, plus an attack of necrotizing fasciitis, better known as flesh eating bacteria, all at the same time. The lack of blood flow in his legs left John with excruciating peripheral neuropathy in his legs that resulted in prescriptions for morphine, hydrocodone and occasionally oxycodone, and more drugs to treat the side effects. A full complement of opioids would reduce his pain but not eliminate it. Walking was painful, and he couldn’t sleep much.

Then he went to visit his son in Oregon.

“He said try this, and handed me some cannabis tincture, a 50/50 CBD and THC,” John says. “’Yeah sure, right,’ I said. I knew drugs, and a little weed wasn’t going to do anything.”

Like many people, John had to overcome misconceptions about what the medical use of cannabis means--all the more so because of his background as a recovering alcoholic and a counselor.

“Five minutes later I was pain free. From a five on the pain scale with the morphine to a zero. I was amazed.”

Adding the cannabinoids achieved what the opioids alone could not, and with no side effects, including intoxication. The tincture didn’t get him high; it just eliminated the pain.

“Morphine and hydrocodone helped with pain, but I couldn’t think, and sleep was always a problem,” John says. “I’d take a time-release morphine before bed, but six hours in, I’d be awake with pain and have to get a hydrocodone. A little tincture, and I’d go right back to sleep with no pain.”

Joh Belville, Idaho Cannabis Coalition

As successful as his experience with cannabis tincture was, John still had a problem. He was only visiting Oregon, and Idaho, where he lives, is one of the three states remaining with no medical cannabis law of any kind.

“My kid as a joke said ‘you’d be perfect as a chief petitioner,” John recalls. “You’re an ex-alcoholic, cleaned up, now a counselor.”

On Tuesday, June 25, John went to the state capitalwith other patient advocates to file the paperwork that began the process of qualifying the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act for the November 2020 ballot. They have until August 30 to gather and submit to the Idaho Secretary of State more than 55,000 signatures.

“It’s been fun,” John says. “My wife and I went to the farmers’ market last weekend and collected about 100 signatures. The older folks are all for it. They understand why we need it.”

Signature gathering events this month include September 6 - 8 at Julia Davis Park in Boise, September 7 in Jerome, and September 13-15 at Hyde Park in Boise. Activists can also download the 10-page petitionand gather signatures themselves.

On September 21, John and his wife Jackie are starting the first of what will be regular meetings of the Idaho Cannabis Coalition in Nampa, Idaho, to be held at 4:20 on the third Saturday of each month. Follow the Idaho Cannabis Coalitionfacebook page for more information.

This profile was originally published in the September 2019 ASA Activist Newsletter