By Ben Olson
The 2018 legislative session has concluded. While Idaho lawmakers passed a variety of legislation that championed conservative causes such as tax relief, restricting abortion, allowing teachers to train to carry firearms, they still have myopia when it comes to legalizing the medical usage of cannabidiol, or CBD oil.
CBD hemp oil is extracted from a cannabis plant, but contains little or no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for the pschoactive high. Supporters have claimed CBD oil has helped reduce seizures in children with epilepsy, as well as acting as a medical supplement that helps with everything from stress to anxiety and depression. Opponents of the extract claim it will provide a gateway toward legalizing marijuana usage in Idaho.
While THC and CBD are derived from the same cannabis sativa plant, known widely as marijuana, the two compounds are quite distinct. Over the years, marijuana farmers have bred their plants to be very high in THC to maximize the high produced when smoking marijuana. Hemp farmers, on the other hand, tend not to modify the plant, since THC production is not the intended byproduct. It is these hemp plants that are used to create CBD oil.
In 2015, Idaho lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1146aa, otherwise known as “Alexis’ Law,” which would have provided a legal defense for parents of children who use CBD oil for relief from severe epileptic seizures. When the bill reached Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s desk, however, despite the large amount of support from both sides of the aisle, he vetoed it.
“Of course I sympathize with the heartbreaking dilemma facing some families trying to cope with the debilitating impacts of the disease,” Otter wrote with his veto. “(The bill) asks us to legalize the limited use of cannabidiol oil, contrary to federal law. And it asks us to look past the potential of misuse and abuse with criminal intent.”
In response to the veto, Idaho resident Katie Donahue said that she literally prayed for death because she couldn’t find a way to treat her seizures.
“I am deeply saddened at the freedom Butch Otter continues to deny extremely ill Idahoans,” she said in a statement in 2015 to Reason. “I am devastated for the children who will continue forced suffering from diseases as well as stigma. I am sickened to think of families from other states having success with cannabinoid therapy not being able to experience the beauty of Idaho because freedom has been replaced with fascism.”
Three years later, in the 2018 legislative session, Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, tried again. Moon introduced House Bill 410, aiming to legalize the medical use of CBD oil in Idaho.
“When I was running for office, I was hearing a lot about CBD oil,” said Moon. “Many of my constituents from Gem County said they were using it for fibromyalgia and having success with it.”
HB410 intended to regulate the usage of CBD oil through a registration program, which Moon said was a stipulation to “appease most of the legislators so it wasn’t going to be carte blanche for CBD oil in the state, because it would be very difficult in a conservative state to get this through unless we had some sort of registration.”
However, as many pointed out, by registering to use a product extracted from a marijuana plant, users would have potentially lost their Second Amendment right to bear arms. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits anyone from possessing guns if they use or are addicted to cannabis.
“I had quite a bit of input and talked to the Health and Welfare chair,” said Moon. “I asked if he thought I could get it through without the registration card. People didn’t like the idea of having a database with their information in it.”
Moon revamped the bill into a new version, House Bill 577, which struck the registration stipulation. It passed the Health and Welfare committee unanimously and went onto the House floor, where it was passed with a supermajority vote and sent on to the Senate. A supermajority vote means the bill would have been “veto proof” if passed in the Senate.
“I went and spoke with Sen. Heider the day after it passed with a House supermajority, and he said that he would give me a hearing the following week,” said Moon. “Well, I went in on Monday and he said he doesn’t want to give me a hearing because the governor did not want to see it on his desk. So there it sat. A lot of people called in, a lot of people begged him, but he wouldn’t do it.”
Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, was criticized for violating Idaho’s open meeting law last month when he interrupted the introduction of the bill by Sen. Tony Potts, R-Twin Falls, and took the meeting inside his office without members of the public or reporters present.
“If anyone on this committee wants to talk about this, they can do so in my office,” Heider declared.
The majority of the panel gathered in Heider’s office to discuss Potts’ motion. AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi reported that yells could be heard from inside Heider’s office.
“The governor doesn’t want this bill, the prosecutors don’t want this bill, the office on drug policy doesn’t want this bill,” shouted Heider, who was easily heard through the door.
Heider later apologized for violating the open meeting law in a statement to his committee. All votes taken prior to that violation were stricken. Heider said that he was to blame for the violation, but since no subsequent votes attempted to bring the bill to the Senate floor, it was a no harm, no foul situation.
“The committee didn’t vote to hold the bill in the drawer,” said Heider. “Nor did the committee vote to bring it out. So I continued to hold it in the drawer. That’s really where this story ends.”
Heider claimed to have had more opponents than supporters for the bill, which influenced his decision.
“I had about two inches of email paper from people that didn’t like this bill,” said Heider. “Everybody in law enforcement did not like this bill. They thought it opened the door to marijuana.”
Heider said he had “about half as many” pages from people who wanted it for their children with epilepsy and others to use.
“I’d rather be on the side of law enforcement than be on the side of people who want to use marijuana,” said Heider.
Small Business woes
For Joel Bordeaux, co-owner of Global CBD in Sandpoint, which offers a product line of CBD oil extracted from hemp and is therefore legal to use in Idaho, the killing of the bill stemmed from the inability for some Idaho lawmakers to view CBD oil in a different light than marijuana usage.
“It’s legal to use hemp-extracted CBD oil in Idaho, per Idaho code as it’s written,” said Bordeaux. “It contains no THC, so you’re not breaking the law. We’ve had the drug task force come in and buy one of every one of our products.”
Bordeaux said in the two years his business has offered CBD oil, it has taken off exponentially.
“We’ve easily got a thousand people using our product regularly right now,” said Bordeaux. “We helped a store open in Idaho Falls. Pilgrims, Winter Ridge, Vapor Creek, Cloud Cafe. There are naturopathic doctors in North Carolina, Pennsylvania. Veternarians in Spokane, Sandpoint. We’ve even got some stuff going to Trinidad Tobago.”
Bordeaux said it’s been an uphill battle trying to market the product in Idaho, one of the 20 states in the U.S. that have no laws legalizing recreational or medicinal usage of cannabis.
“In the beginning, it was frustrating, especially trying to reach into southern Idaho,” he said. “Stores would literally think we were undercover police officers trying to trick them. That was a year ago. Now, we have people calling us.”
Apples and Oranges… and CBD oil
Moon is equally frustrated that the mentality remains focused on the psychoactive nature of THC, not on the medicinal properties of CBD oil, which doesn’t produce a high when taken.
“It’s disheartening, because there are a lot of kids who need to use this CBD oil and have been, but they’re forced to use it illegally,” said Moon. “What some people don’t realize is that if these kids go to hospital and they’re tested, and let’s say they find THC in their system, these parents are in fear of losing their kids.”
Moon said a few factors will always be a hurtle to overcome: “We are a conservative state, and we have a pretty much conservative legislature,” she said. “Also, if you want to try to move a pathway for legality, you’re going to have to have some sideboards on that. The bill has to include a visit to your doctor, and some groups don’t like that. … I don’t see any problem with seeing your doctor, though. It’s between you and your physician what you need.”
By refusing to allow the bill to be brought out of committee onto the senate floor, Heider made clear his vociferous objection to any bill that makes legalizing marijuana easier. He stands by the decision.
“It was my decision and I held it,” said Heider. “I’m happy that I did, although I know there was a great controversy about it. … I’m not in favor of marijuana use.”
Rep. Moon said she will reintroduce the bill next year.
“I’ve got some different tactics,” she said. “After the election, I’ll see who is the chair and the committees like State Affairs and Health and Welfare, and kind of guide it in the right direction. When it comes to Heider, I was hoping he was going to be a man of his word, but he was not.”
Moon said many of her constituents, including a lot of senior citizens, are interested in legalizing CBD oil in Idaho. She hopes that conservative lawmakers like herself will someday be able to differentiate between the medically-beneficial CBD oil from the illegal use of marijuana.
“You hear all these stories about people using it with success, and you think, my god, I don’t have a dog in this fight,” said Moon. “I’m not using it, my family is not using it, but I have a lot of constituents who use it, and they want a legal pathway. That’s what this bill was all about.”