An Idaho Senator broke a state open-meetings law in an attempt to shield the governor from having to once again veto a popular medical marijuana bill.
House Bill 577 is intended to allow parents to treat their children with a non-psychoactive cannabis oil known as CBD – cannabidiol – if the child is suffering from intractable epilepsy. It is similar to a so-called CBD-only law that first passed in neighboring Utah in 2014.
Idaho is one of only four states that don’t recognize some form of medical marijuana. Idaho’s governor, Butch Otter, is the only state governor to have vetoed a CBD-only law.
The bill, like most of the CBD-only laws that have passed now in eighteen states, does not provide any of the cannabis to produce the oil. The bill would not even provide any manner for the parents to acquire the oil. It simply protects parents from prosecution if they should visit a neighboring state where they can purchase the oil legally, then smuggle it back into Idaho to treat their child.
The bill recently passed the Idaho House on a 59-11 vote. It is when the bill got transferred to the Idaho Senate that the illegal democracy-thwarting shenanigans began.
“The Governor’s Office Doesn’t Want This Bill”
The bill was assigned to the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. Republican Chair Sen. Lee Heider was going to let HB 577 die in that committee.
Marijuana activists complained to committee member Sen. Tony Potts, another Republican, that the will of the people should be heard. Sen. Potts has a child who suffers from seizures and explained to the chair why his family would want to try the CBD oil.
“I think we have to remember that we represent people, people who vote for us, people who are our friends,” Potts said. “If your constituents are anything like mine, there is a large amount of individuals who desire the health benefits of this.”
Chair Heider gaveled down the request from Sen. Potts.
“If anyone on this committee wants to talk about this, they can do so in my office,” Heider said.
That’s when Heider left the room, followed by a majority of the committee, to meet privately in his office.
Reporters attempted to follow the group into the office, but were denied. From outside the door, they could hear Chair Heider yelling to the other member of the committee.
CHAIR HEIDER: We’re not going to hear this issue on my committee. There’s other big issues on the agenda. This is totally inappropriate. … No, we do not. The governor’s office does not want to hear this bill … Drug Policy does not want to hear this bill. Prosecutors do not want to hear this bill. State Police do not want to hear this bill. I’m respecting those people. And I told them we are not going to hear this bill in my committee. So you can raise the motion all day long, but unless they fire me as committee chairman, it’s not going to be heard in my committee. Unless they pull the bill out of my committee, if pro tem decides to do that, then he has that power [unintelligible]
That’s when a reporter knocks on the door to inform the Senators that the meeting they are having is breaking Idaho law.
[Knocking on heavy door, staff member opens it up]
REPORTER 1: Chairman, I think this is violating the Open Meeting Law. This is violating the Open Meeting Law!
REPORTER 2: It’s true.
REPORTER 1: It’s still a closed… it’s still inappropriate.
REPORTER 2: Uh-huh. And I don’t have my phone with me, otherwise I’d be…
STAFF: Was there a quorum, is that the problem?
REPORTER 1: Yes. The entire committee, without voting to go into closed door session, went into closed door session.
STAFF: That was an error.
REPORTER 1: I understand that, which is why I knocked on the door.
STAFF: Now, now… I don’t think there’s a quorum, well, obviously, we’re done.
The following day, Chair Heider was forced to own up to his error.
“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 and received unanimous consent to vacate the vote held in his office to kill HB 577.
Masculine Sea Mammal Owned by Cops, Rehabs
CBD-only laws proliferated after Utah passed theirs in 2014 in the wake of the influential CNN special “Weed,” which examined how CBD oil successfully treated the intractable epilepsy of a little girl in Colorado named Charlotte Figi.
After numerous states had passed their laws, the public was barraged with images of children with seizures becoming calm and healthy. In 2015, pressure was building on the Idaho Legislature from families and advocates to do something.
Idaho legislators are some of the most conservative in the nation. Just two years earlier in 2013, advocates began working with national reform organizations to scope out the prospects for a medical marijuana initiative in Idaho. The state legislature, seeing poll numbers with 74 percent support among Idahoans for medical marijuana, fought back by passing an anti-marijuana resolution that declared, in part:
WHEREAS, national pro-marijuana organizations have invested millions to push drug legalization in America, and have targeted Idaho for a “medical” marijuana initiative in 2014 … NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the members of the First Regular Session of the Sixty-second Idaho Legislature, the Senate and the House of Representatives concurring therein, that the Idaho Legislature takes this opportunity to state its opposition to efforts to legalize marijuana for any purpose in the State of Idaho.
That same House that voted 63-7 and that same Senate that voted 29-5 that marijuana should never be legalized for any purpose in Idaho then turned around in 2015 and voted 39-30 in the House and 22-12 in the Senate to pass Senate Bill 1146, a CBD-only bill virtually identical to the current House Bill 577.
When that bill got to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk, he vetoed it, explaining that the legislature should have known better than to send him such nonsense to sign:
I don’t know what more I or senior members of my administration could have done to help legislators understand our strong opposition to this legislation. Both the House and Senate were told by the Office of Drug Policy, the Department of Health and Welfare, and the Idaho State Police — as well as prosecutors and local law enforcement officers from throughout Idaho — that there were too many questions and problems and too few answers and solutions in this bill to let it become law.
As an investigative report in Reason found, Otter is in the pocket of the state’s law enforcement and drug treatment lobbies.
They’ve clearly had an effect on the man who, in 1978, ran for governor stating, “If a person, of his own free will, wants to use marijuana, I question whether the government has any propriety in telling him he can’t.”
Even as recently as 2006, just as Otter was ascending to the office of governor, he was telling Reason, “I still support medical marijuana. Some of these people, the only way they can get relief is by smoking marijuana.”
In 2015, Otter’s veto statement explained how he was standing with his Drug Czar and others who believe allowing epileptic kids to use non-psychoactive cannabis oil could hurt the kids and endanger the public.
The blowback Otter was receiving from the public and the news media forced him to offer up a lame Executive Order that opened up a study program for Epidiolex, a trial pharmaceutical medication containing CBD, to just 25 children, later expanded to 38.
Marijuana Could Divide Idaho Republicans
It remains to be seen whether Sen. Heider’s committee will ever hear HB 577. If the bill gets heard, forwarded, and passed by the Idaho Senate, it doesn’t look like it would survive a second veto from Gov. Otter.
At a recent public event in Firth, Idaho, Otter was asked about pending bills in the legislature he might be concerned with.
The governor said, “It’s never been my design to say I’m going to veto a bill or I’m going to sign a bill.”
Then Otter rattled off some examples of bills that he would worry about, like legalizing marijuana or cannabidiol. A legislator sitting near him noted that the cannabidiol bill had just passed the House.
“Well, I vetoed it once,” warned Otter.
Now as the term-limited governor Otter is exiting the office after the next election, his lieutenant governor, Republican Brad Little, is aiming to take his seat. Republican primaries are the election in Idaho; a democrat hasn’t won the governor’s office since 1990.
The CBD issue is not going away. Idaho citizens have the power of citizen initiatives – they can gather signatures and put not just a cannabidiol law, but a whole-plant medical marijuana law up for the voters to consider.
Otter being in the pocket of law enforcement and drug rehab could be the undoing of his Lt. Governor’s campaign. Little will be forced to be in conflict with the majority of Idahoans on the issue of CBD or to be in conflict with his own administration’s veto of it.
Other Idaho Republicans are also eager to use medical marijuana as a wedge issue.
US Congressman Raul Labrador, who is challenging Little in the Republican primary, criticized State Sen. Heider’s attempt to kill the CBD bill in secret.
“If this administration has real valid reasons to oppose the CBD oil legislation, they should present them in a public, open forum,” said Labrador. “They should defeat ideas in committee, not hide behind a committee chairman to avoid the public debate.”
Another GOP primary hopeful, Tommy Ahlquist, released a statement criticizing Otter’s opposition to CBD.
“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.
A wise politician might recognize, as Republicans did in Ohio, that passing a more limited form of medical marijuana through the legislature engenders goodwill with the public and will cut the legs out from under a citizen’s initiative campaign to pass broader medical marijuana.
Nobody’s going to confuse Butch Otter with a wise man.
In kowtowing to law enforcement, Otter has needlessly hung a public relations millstone around his lieutenant’s political neck. Otter has also provided another boost to activists in the Gem State seeking to legalize medical marijuana via initiative in 2020.