New Bill For Marijuana-Derived Epilepsy Treatment Comes With Strong Restrictions

Mar 13, 2015

Nampa's Curt McKenzie heads Idaho's Senate State Affairs Committee.
Credit legislature.idaho.gov

This story was updated with content from the Associated Press at 11:45 A.M.

Idaho parents of epileptic children appear to be slowly swaying the Idaho Legislature to allow the use of cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders.

The Senate State Affairs committee voted 5-4 on Friday to advance legislation that would provide a defense for people who are arrested for using the marijuana extract. The bill is considered one of the strictest in the nation compared to other states that also permit the oil to help reduce the severity and number of seizures in children with severe forms of epilepsy.

However, the measure is facing opposition from the governor's office.

President Pro Tem Brent Hill, who voted against the bill, says the governor's Office of Drug Policy has drafted an alternative proposal. However, Chairman Curt McKenzie of Nampa says that bill will not be introduced this year.

This story was originally published at 6:00 A.M.

An Idaho Senate committee Friday morning will consider a bill that seeks to allow parents of children with severe epilepsy to access an oil derived from cannabis. Several states that don’t allow medical marijuana have made exceptions for the treatment.

When the proposal was first introduced last week, it would've been among the least restrictive in the country. Now it may be the most restrictive.

The original bill introduced by Sen. Curt McKenzie (R-Nampa) would have made the oil legal and would not have controlled who could get it. McKenzie thought that, since the oil can’t make anyone high, there was no need for tough regulations.

But some in law enforcement and the Idaho Office of Drug Policy objected and the bill was re-done. The current version keeps the oil illegal but provides what’s known as an affirmative defense.

McKenzie -- who is a lawyer -- compares it to battery laws. If you beat someone up, you’ll be arrested. But if you can prove it was self-defense you won’t be convicted. If the bill passes people could be arrested for possessing the oil, but if they prove to a judge they’re using it to treat a child with severe epilepsy they won’t go to jail.

McKenzie says the new bill is the result of political necessity. He says when he first started working on this issue he thought it would easily pass the legislature.   

“Other states have done this, states that are as conservative as Idaho,” McKenzie says. “They didn’t have the same kind of opposition. I was surprised by the amount of fear that was expressed. Because of that, I don’t know if we [will] get it through the [legislative] process.”

McKenzie says even if a bill passes the legislature there is a chance the governor could veto it.

McKenzie says they won't take testimony in Friday’s committee meeting and they won't vote on the bill because some members have amendments to add first.

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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