Members of the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee on March 9 unanimously agreed to hold a bill opening the way for medical use of cannabis oil, though promised it wouldn't languish there as they mull over several amendments meant to answer concerns raised by law enforcement officials and prosecutors.
The hold comes on the heels of emotional testimony given March 4, when parents told the committee that passage of Senate Bill 1106
—known as Alexis' Law, named after 10-year-old Alexis Carey who suffers from a rare seizure disorder—offered their children a last hope to control debilitating and life-threatening seizures.
“We are almost out of options,” said Boise father Ron Gambassi, testifying on March 4 about his twin daughters’ treatment plans. The girls suffer from daily seizures, some of which last as long as two hours and come day and night. The girls currently take three different types of pharmaceutical medications to control the seizures.
Boise Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie is sponsoring SB 1106, or "Alexis' Law," which would allow the use of cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders.
“That’s a lot of poison,” Gambassi said.
The March 4 hearing
drew a number of questions from lawmakers but no opposition to the intent of the bill. The questions centered on how police would enforce current marijuana laws, including concerns that the bill's passage would result in additional laboratory analysis on marijuana seizures and hamper the work of drug dogs, which can't distinguish between cannabis oil and marijuana.
Committee members challenged lawmakers to meet with stakeholders and draft amendments to the bill backed by the Epilepsy Foundation of Idaho that address police concerns. They did just that and returned less than a week later with a version of the bill that its sponsor, Boise Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie, called the most restrictive CBD oil bill in the nation.
McKenzie reworked the measure with input from police and the Office of Drug Policy into an amended version modeled after Georgia’s CBD oil bill, which doesn’t legalize CBD oil but provides patients and caregivers a defense in court should they face prosecution for possessing cannabis oil.
“Instead of decriminalizing or legalizing CBD, the approach that I came to was basically to provide an affirmative defense to a limited category of people,” McKenzie told the committee.
Law enforcement and prosecutors wouldn’t have to do anything differently than they do now and the measure wouldn’t create a new bureaucracy, McKenzie added.
“The doctor would be the gatekeeper,” he said.
Under the amended measure, patients or caregivers would have a legal defense if their possession case went before a jury—but only if they carry independently lab verified, non-psychoactive cannabis oil with a THC content of less than 0.3 percent in a labeled container, and have a physician’s recommendation to treat a defined illness or disorder.
Family friend Jennifer Lewis cares for Alexis Carey (left) during Wednesday's hearing.
Alexis Carey, whom McKenzie named the bill after, has battled Dravet Syndrome and the daily seizures that accompany the disorder since she was an infant. Alexis' mother, Clare Carey, told Boise Weekly in January
that the family wants the option to try the CBD oil without facing prosecution.
The supplement has proved successful in treating seizure disorders that have resisted conventional treatments. If the bill passes, Idaho would join 12 other states that have medical CBD oil exemptions on the books. Nearly half of the states currently allow for the use of medical marijuana.
Inconsistent cannabis oil laws have prompted families to move across the country in order to treat aggressive seizure disorders that threaten their children's lives and stall their development. Lawmakers heard from parents who said that moving across state lines is not an option and that their children's health care shouldn't be determined by their zip code.
“I think that we all have the heart to get to the same place,” Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said of finding consensus on the measure.
Those words give Carey hope.
“All the committee members are saying, ‘We need to make this happen this session.’ That’s just so encouraging and hopefully we can address everyone’s concerns,” she said.