CBD oil bill in limbo after chairman violates Open Meeting Law

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

A recent proposal aiming to legalize oil extracted from cannabis plants is most likely dead on arrival after a group of lawmakers on Monday broke out in turmoil during a last-minute attempt to advance the bill, the Associated Press reported.

Sen. Tony Potts, R-Idaho Falls, asked the Senate Health and Welfare Committee to give HB 577 a hearing after the bill’s supporters claimed they had been blocked by legislative leaders.

“I think we have to remember that we represent people, people who vote for us, people who are our friends,” Potts told the AP. “If your constituents are anything like mine, there is a large amount of individuals who desire the health benefits of this.”

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, is extracted from a cannabis plant, but contains little or no THC, the chemical substance responsible for the high. Supporters claim CBD can help alleviate pain and reduce stress, though marijuana’s status as a schedule 1 drug on the federal drug classification has precluded the gathering of medical data to support these claims. More than 30 Idaho children with intractable epilepsy are currently receiving a commercial version of CBD oil as part of a drug trial, and positive results have been reported as far as reducing the children’s seizures.

While Potts defended his motion, Chairman Lee Heider, R-Idaho Falls, angrily gaveled him down, according to the AP.

“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 into Heider’s office to discuss Potts’ motion, denying a request by an AP reporter to sit in on the meeting. The AP reported that yells could be heard from multiple members inside Heider’s office.

“The governor’s office 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 by AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi on the other side.

The six-minute-long closed-door meeting only broke up after Melissa Davlin, a reporter from Idaho Public Television, knocked repeatedly on Heider’s office door and warned them that the panel’s actions were violating Idaho Senate Rule 20, known as the Open Meeting Law.

Senate Rule 20 declares that “All meetings of any standing, select, or special committee shall be open to the public at all times, and any person may attend any hearing of such committee.”

Heider later apologized for violating Senate rules in a statement to his committee: “The chair acknowledges violation of Senate Rule 20, in that an unnoticed and unapproved executive session occurred,” said Heider, who asked for unanimous consent to “set aside the vote on March 5, 2018, because it violated Senate Rule 20.”

The vote Heider referred to was one in which the committee decided to hold HB 577 in committee, which is a method of  preventing a bill from reaching the House floor for a vote, ultimately killing it.

When asked by the AP the current status of the bill, Heider said, “I guess I’m still holding it. But the committee hasn’t voted to hold it. I don’t know if I’ll bring it out at some point.”

Heider’s decision could potentially be overridden if, on the floor of the Senate, senators call for a bill to emerge from a committee over its chairman’s opposition. However, this procedure is rarely successful.

Idaho lawmakers passed a similar bill in 2015 that would have allowed parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy to use CBD oil to treat their kids. The bill was then vetoed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who made the decision after law enforcement groups voiced fears it would lead to further loosening the state’s drug laws.

“I don’t want to be the bad guy – I’m not a bad person,” Heider told the AP. “But I feel like it really is opening the door to marijuana in our state. We are the bastion of freedom from marijuana in our state, and I like living here.”

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