Drugs Politics

Idaho Senate Dodges Law to Sheld Otter From Embarrassment

Idaho’s House has advanced a bill allowing residents to use oil extracted from cannabis plants in staunchly anti-marijuana Idaho as long as the product is prescribed by a licensed practitioner.

House members on Wednesday passed the measure on a 59-11 vote. It must now pass the Senate before it can head to the governor’s desk.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter vetoed similar legislation in 2015 that would have allowed children with severe forms of epilepsy to use CBD oil.

In a letter that Otter included with his veto he says that while he sympathizes with the families trying to cope with the impacts of the disease, the bill ignores ongoing scientific testing on alternative treatments and it asks the state to look past the potential for misuse and abuse with criminal intent.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter strongly hinted Wednesday that, if a bill to legalize cannabidiol oil reaches his desk, he will veto it.

Speaking to a full house at a “Capital for a Day” event at Firth City Hall, Otter was responding to a question about whether he was concerned about any bills the Legislature is considering. Otter said he “always reserve(s) judgment on a bill until the bill reaches my desk.”

“It’s never been my design to say I’m going to veto a bill or I’m going to sign a bill,” he said.

However, Otter gave the example of a bill legalizing marijuana as something that, were it to pass, would worry him. He also mentioned CBD oil, a non-psychoactive oil made from cannabis that advocates say has numerous medical uses.

“Which just passed the House,” said former Idaho Falls legislator and now-Tax Commissioner Janet Moyle, who was sitting to Otter’s left.

“Well, I vetoed it once,” Otter replied.

Otter said he views drug abuse as Idaho’s biggest problem. He said restricting drugs is consistent with his vision of a government that protects freedom.

“When a person is hooked on drugs, they’re no longer free,” he said.

Otter said he has never tried any illegal drugs himself.

“I’m afraid I’ll like them,” he said. “I remember when I used to smoke (cigarettes), and boy, getting that monkey off my back.”

A proposal to legalize oil extracted from cannabis plants is likely dead for the year after a group of lawmakers on Monday broke out in turmoil during a last-minute attempt to advance the bill.

Republican Sen. Tony Potts asked the Senate Health and Welfare Committee to give HB 577 a hearing after supporters of the bill said they were being 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 said, who was appointed to the Idaho Falls’ legislative seat in October. “If you’re constituents are anything like mine, there is a large amount of individuals who desire the health benefits of this (CBD oil).”

While Potts defended his motion — which focused on his recent child’s seizures and why his family would want to use the product — he was quickly gaveled down by Chairman Lee Heider.

“If anyone on this committee wants to talk about this, they can do so in my office,” Heider said.

The majority of the panel then headed toward Heider’s office to discuss Potts’ motion.

Heider denied a request by The Associated Press, who followed lawmakers into the office, to sit in on the meeting.

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,” Heider said, who could be heard shouting to his members by the AP on the other side of the door.

An Idaho Senate panel on Tuesday vacated a decision that halted a proposal to legalize oil extracted from cannabis plants because it was held after an open meeting violation.

Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Lee Heider, a Republican from Twin Falls, asked to vacate Monday’s vote on HB 577 during the panel’s Tuesday meeting.

“The chair acknowledges violation of Senate Rule 20, in that an unnoticed and unapproved executive session occurred,” Heider said in front of his committee.

Heider then asked for unanimous consent to “set aside the vote on March 5” — which was granted by the committee.

It’s still unknown if Heider will allow the bill to advance by giving it a hearing. Yet, his actions have sparked criticism from CBD advocates and political candidates who have used the issue to criticize the current administration.

“If this administration has real valid reasons to oppose the CBD oil legislation, they should present them in a public, open forum,” said U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who is running in the GOP gubernatorial primary. “They should defeat ideas in committee, not hide behind a committee chairman to avoid the public debate.”

Meanwhile, fellow GOP opponent Tommy Ahlquist’s campaign also released a statement criticizing Otter.

“Since day one, Tommy has supported the legalization of CBD oil that helps sick people as long as the THC is removed and it’s prescribed by a doctor,” said David Johnston, Ahlquist’s campaign manager.