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Idaho lawmakers kill cannabis oil bill during apparently illegal closed-door committee meeting

UPDATED: Mon., March 5, 2018

By Kimberlee Kruesi Associated Press

BOISE — 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 your constituents are anything like mine, there is a large amount of individuals who desire the health benefits of this.”

Cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD oil, comes from cannabis but contain little or no THC. Supporters tout CBD as a supplement that can help alleviate pain, reduce stress and improve skin health, although there’s little data on that. However, 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 in reducing the children’s seizures.

While Potts defended his motion – which focused on his 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 declared.

The majority of the panel – not including Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, who said she thought the move violated Senate rules – then trooped into Heider’s office to discuss Potts’ motion.

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

Yelling 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 could be easily heard by the AP on the other side of the door.

Idaho lawmakers passed legislation in 2015 that would have allowed parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy to use CBD oil to treat their kids. That bill was vetoed by Republican Gov.Butch Otter, who received pressure from law enforcement groups that feared it would lead to further loosening of the state’s drug laws. Otter has since said his position has not changed in the past three years.

Heider also warned Potts that his motion was unusual and should not have been made. Other lawmakers could be heard defending the legislative process, while others argued to allow Potts’ motion to be debated.

The committee’s closed-door meeting, which ran for six minutes, only broke up after a warning from another reporter, Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television, who knocked repeatedly on Heider’s office door, that the panel’s actions were breaking the state’s Open Meeting Law.

According to Senate rules, “all meetings of any standing, select, or special committee shall be open to the public at all times.”

Once the closed-door meeting had broken up, members returned to the public committee room and a separate, substitute motion was made to hold HB 577 in committee – a legislative procedure essentially halting the bill from moving forward.

“The concern with the motion that I have, it doesn’t get it where we need to be,” Potts said, before voting against the action.

Potts’ concerns were overruled by other members on the committee via a voice vote and HB 577 will likely not advance this legislative session.

The measure had already cleared the House with a veto-proof majority.

Currently, 18 states allow use of “low THC, high cannabidiol (CBD)” products for medical reasons in limited situations or as a legal defense.

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