UPDATE: Idaho House Committee Reverses Votes for Cannabis Oil Bill, Giving Measure Renewed Life

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UPDATE: April 2, 2015

In a stunning reversal, the House State Affairs Committee voted 12-4 on Thursday, April 2 to approve a bill that would provide a legal defense for the use of non-psychotropic cannabidiol oil to treat intractable epilepsy and other seizure disorders.

Senate Bill 1146aa was passed by the Senate on March 24 but stalled in the House State Affairs Committee on an 8-8 vote March 30. In a surprising move, the committee decided to revisit the legislation April 2, when several lawmakers switched their votes.

Reps. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs; Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls; and John McCrostie, D-Garden City, reversed their "nay" positions on the bill and were joined by Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, who was absent for the March 30 vote. 

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, who opposed the measure on March 30, was not present for the April 2 vote.

Though unusual, the practice of returning to a bill after it has been voted on isn't unheard of.

"Any time a bill is held in committee it can be brought back by a member," said House State Affairs Committee Secretary Kasey Winder.

McCrostie, who was the only Democrat on the committee to side with Republicans to hold the bill, requested that it be reconsidered.

Otherwise known as "Alexis' Law," SB 1146aa is named for 10-year-old Alexis Carey, who suffers from an intractable form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. Her mother, Clare, has lobbied the Legislature for several years to pass a bill that would open the way for parents to legally obtain cannabidiol—a low-THC extract of cannabis—which has been shown to lessen seizures in children with similar conditions.

The bill met with stiff opposition from Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's drug czar, Idaho Office of Drug Policy Director Elisha Figueroa, who told lawmakers on March 30 that "this is not hemp oil you can buy at the Co-op. This is marijuana, a Schedule One drug, and Idaho will be violating federal law if this passes."

Supporters of the bill, including parents and pediatricians, argued during an emotional, marathon public hearing March 30 that cannabidiol offers substantive relief from the symptoms of life-threatening seizure disorders.

Speaking of her 11-year-old daughter Marley, who experiences between two and 100 seizures per day, Natalie Stevens said on March 30 that, "‘Seizure’ means Marley can never be out of my sight; it means that she has scars from biting her tongue all the time; it means that her breathing stops, it means missing school and missing work; it means sleepless nights and agonizing days. Seizures are our prison. We’ll gladly risk this. We’re already in prison. We would rather be arrested and have an affirmative defense."

SB 1146aa now heads to the full House for consideration. According to Winder, that could happen as early as Monday, April 6. 
UPDATE: April 1, 2015

In a surprise move, the Idaho House State Affairs Committee agreed to reconsider a controversial cannabidiol oil bill that died only two days earlier. In effect, when committee members reconvene April 2, they could reverse themselves and approve the measure which could provide an "affirmative defense" for parents who use the oil as relief for the children who suffer severe epileptic seizures.

The bill's future was put into peril March 31 when, after hours of every emotional testimony, the committee deadlocked 8-8, thus putting the bill back into a drawer.

But now, Plummer Democratic Rep. Paulette Jordan, who was absent from the vote, says she supports the bill, and Garden City Democratic Rep. John McCrostie, who initially voted against the bill, now says the measure should be reconsidered.

Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Loertscher cautioned his fellow lawmakers that there would not be any more public testimony on Thursday, just some discussion among committee members and an ultimate vote.

UPDATE: March 30, 2015 7 p.m.

The only thing more dramatic than the testimony in front of the Idaho House State Affairs committee March 30 was the committee’s vote. What started as an early morning hearing in front of the committee - considering whether to grant parents an “affirmative defense” to use cannabidiol oil in the treatment of their children’s severe epileptic seizures - ended nine hours later and long after most of the rest of the legislature had gone home for the evening.

After a physically and emotionally exhausting two-part hearing where parents held back tears while pleading for their children’s comfort, the committee deadlocked: 8-to-8, effectively killing the bill. Garden City Democratic Rep. John McCrostie joined seven Republican legislators in voting against Senate Bill 1146aa. Plummer Democratic Rep. Paulette Jordan was not present for the vote.

“It’s a tie,” said Committee Chair Rep. Tom Loertscher, who had voted for the bill, along with four Republicans and three Democrats. Members of the public, who had endured the marathon, sat stunned after spending a good part of their day imploring legislators to help their children.

“I’ll try to contain my emotions,” said Holli Bunderson who spoke about her son who suffered his first seizure when he was ten-months-old, and has since had a tumor and cyst removed from his brain and has been diagnosed with Autism and Limbic Rage Syndrome, triggering seizures from the deepest part of his brain throughout his 7-year-old body.

Dr. David Bettis, a pediatric neurologist who works with many of the Idaho families coping with their children’s severe epilepsy, cautioned lawmakers, “Not to throw the babies out of with the bathwater. I would urge you not to overemphasize the bathwater. Let’s keep in mind that these children deserve this kind of help. Yes, I struggle with the illegal transport of the drug as much as anyone, but that’s the part of the bathwater. We can work that out.”

Natalie Stevens said she was prepared to testify before the House committee because she was an expert.

“I’m an expert on my daughter, said the mother of 11-year-old Marley who suffers from anywhere from two to 100 seizures every day.

“You’ve heard the word ‘seizure’ over and over today,” said Stevens. “But when you hear it over and over, you forget what that entails. ‘Seizure’ means Marley can never be out of my sight; it means that she has scars from biting her tongue all the time; it means that her breathing stops, it means missing school and missing work; it means sleepless nights and agonizing days. Seizures are our prison. We’ll gladly risk this. We’re already in prison. We would rather be arrested and have an affirmative defense.”

But opponents of the bill brought out the big guns, figuratively, with Idaho police, sheriffs, prosecutors and Governor C.L. Butch Otter’s own drug czar pushing hard against SB 1146aa.

“Yes, this is heart wrenching. But I want to be clear: this is not hemp oil you can buy at the co-op. This is marijuana, a Schedule One drug and Idaho will be violating federal law if this passes,” said Elisha Figueroa, director of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. “We have a very real criminal element in this state that is looking for a shield for their activity, and this law does just that.”

Figueroa, instead, urged the committee to support Senate Bill 1156, which have the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare administer a special program, including trials and oversight of the pharmaceutical company-manufactured Epidiolex.

The Epidiolex trial would include approximately 25 to 30 people, but at least one estimate during the March 30 State Affairs committee hearing indicated that there approximately 1,200 Idaho children who suffer from severe seizures.

ORIGINAL POST: March 30, 2015 11 a.m.

Idaho Senate Bill 1146aa
—a measure that would provide legal defense for parents of children who use a non-psychotropic form of cannabidiol oil for relief of sever seizures—ran into hard-line opposition Monday morning from Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's point-person on drug policy.

"This is heart wrenching," Elisha Figueroa, director of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy told the Idaho House State Affairs Committee. "But I want to be clear. This is not a mere supplement. This is not the hemp oil you can buy at the co-op. This is marijuana, a Schedule One drug, and Idaho will be violating the federal law if this bill passes."

Committee Chair Rep. Tom Loertscher asked Figueroa if every other state—14 Republican-controlled legislatures have passed similar legislation thus far—is already violating federal law.

"Yes," said Figueroa plainly.

But Nampa Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie, sponsor of the bill that is also known as Alexis' Law—named for the Idaho child who suffers severe seizures profiled this past January by Boise Weekly—said, "The purpose of this bill is to provide hope to Idaho families."

"This is a type of hemp oil, with only trace amounts of THC—the substance in marijuana that can get you high," said McKenzie. "And instead of legalizing the drug, it gives parents to opportunity to defend themselves if they're charged with possession."

But Figueroa is instead pushing for a separate measure—Idaho Senate Bill 1156—that would allow the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to administer a special program, including trials and oversight of Epidiolex.

"Senate Bill 1156 would allocate $223,000 for research costs," said Figueroa, adding that 25-33 Idaho families would be eligible for the first trial of the program. "It's fairly new, but at a December 2014 meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, some of the first trials indicated that 39 percent of patients saw some reduction of seizures. The adverse effects were mild or moderate."

But a long list of parents and caregivers are still slated to testify on behalf of of SB 1146aa, leading Loertscher to tell his committee members that they would be expected to gavel back into session Monday afternoon.