Cannabis Oil Bill Passes Idaho House Committee

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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 Kelsey 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. 

Here's the full breakdown of the votes on April 2:

Ayes: Reps. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs; Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls; Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls; Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer; Tom Loertscher, R-Iona; John McCrostie, D-Garden City; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home; Kathleen Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene; Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello; Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise

Nays: Reps. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder; Lynn Luker, R-Boise; Joe Palmer, R-Meridian; James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian.

Absent: Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa