How Idaho’s Drug Warriors Crushed Hope in Epileptic Kids
Eric Boehm reports in Reason:
In December 2014, Josh Phillips’ mother answered the phone to news no parent wants to hear. Her son, an epileptic high school senior and champion wrestler, was in the hospital.
The whole Salmon High School wrestling team was waiting at Steele Memorial Medical Center when Jeanette and Gary Phillips got there. The team had been on its way home from a match at West Jefferson High, more than an hour away and out of cellphone range in the rugged backcountry of northeastern Idaho, when Josh Phillips suffered the worst seizure of his life.
As the bus raced back to Salmon, Josh went in and out of consciousness. He stopped breathing at least once.
“We thought we were going to lose him,” recalls Jason Bruce, the team’s coach.
Josh had been diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 10 years old, but he’d been wrestling since he was much younger, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother. Josh was the best of the bunch. He’d never been pinned during his four years at Salmon High, and Bruce says Josh was a clear favorite to win the state championship at the end of his senior season.
He never got the chance.
After a frantic drive through the mountains, Bruce was finally able to call an ambulance to meet the bus and Josh made it to the hospital where he was stabilized. But the incident on the bus forced the school’s hand, and the decision was made that Josh would no longer be allowed to travel with the team. It was too dangerous.
Now, instead of dreaming of a championship, Josh is just hoping for a normal life. He’s tried more than a dozen different medications and even underwent brain surgery. But the seizures that denied him a shot at a state title now prevent him from pursuing even the most mundane goals of the average 19-year-old. He can’t go to college and probably won’t be able to move out of his parents’ house. He’s not allowed to drive a car, and won’t get permission until he can show doctors that he’s having less than one seizure per month.
With pharmaceutical and surgical treatments unsuccessful, the Phillips family and others in Idaho placed their hopes in the legalization of cannabidiol oil, or CBD, a form of medical marijuana. Though not guaranteed to work for everyone, CBD has been shown to be effective in controlling seizures in some epileptic patients. For that reason, it’s been legalized in dozens of states as a medical treatment, including many states where more widespread uses of medical marijuana remain banned.
In Idaho, a bill to allow people like Josh Phillips to access CBD oil was passed by the state legislature in 2015, only to be defeated by a group of powerful special interests—including cops, prosecutors, and pharmaceutical companies—with direct access to policy makers in Boise. Emails obtained by Reason reveal a behind-the-scenes effort organized by the state’s Office of Drug Policy to derail the CBD legislation and, after it passed against the wishes of Gov. Butch Otter and his administration, to use executive authority to replace the bill with an alternative treatment program that has done nothing to help Josh Phillips or many other Idahoans suffering from seizures.
In the middle of it all was a governor who had for years professed support for ending drug prohibition, only to turn his back when the opportunity came.
Nearly 20 years before Josh Phillips was born, Clement Leroy “Butch” Otter was already pushing for marijuana to be legalized in Idaho.
In 1978, the future governor was a 35-year-old two-term state lawmaker who was running as something of a radical upstart in the state’s gubernatorial election.
“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,” Otter told Reason that year. “The government, in effect, is taking away the only real gift the Lord gave us.”
Intentionally or not, Otter was suggesting that socially permissive policy choices were compatible with—and perhaps even logically following from—a worldview informed by Christian religious tradition. Free will demands that people be allowed to go their own way, take their own risks and make their own mistakes. That’s a perspective that fits with Idaho’s religious conservative culture—and one that runs directly against any notion of government-enforced prohibition.
Otter lost his first gubernatorial race in 1978, finishing third in a seven-way GOP primary. But he won his next race, for lieutenant governor in 1986. He would win re-election to that post three times before earning a seat in Congress in 2001.
As lieutenant governor and during three terms as the representative from Idaho’s First Congressional District, Otter developed a reputation for being a free thinker with a high degree of skepticism toward government power.
In 1987, Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus left the state to attend a conference, leaving Otter to serve as acting governor. While in that role, Otter vetoed a bill that would have raised the legal drinking age in Idaho from 19 to 21 in order to allow the state to access federal highway funds. He said the bill was tantamount to giving into federal blackmail.
Starting in 1999, Otter fought a two-year personal battle with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after being cited for building an illegal pond in his backyard. The EPA said he was disturbing a protected wetland, but Otter maintained that he was allowed to do as he pleased on his own property.
In Congress, he gained notoriety for being one of three Republicans—along with Ron Paul of Texas and Robert Ney of Ohio—to vote against the PATRIOT Act in 2001.
In 2006, after three decades in politics, Otter found himself back where he started: campaigning for governor and talking to Reason magazine about why Idaho should legalize marijuana, at least for medical purposes.
“I still support medical marijuana,” Otter said in 2006, just weeks before he was elected governor. “Some of these people, the only way they can get relief is by smoking marijuana.”
Nine years later, after winning a third consecutive term as the state’s chief executive, Otter finally had a chance to put his name on a law that would legalize, for the first time in the state’s history, a form of marijuana to treat medical issues like seizures. The bill was SB1146.
He vetoed it. . .
Do click the link and read the rest. It’s a sorry story, but it’s part of the US today. Later in the article:
. . . Unlike Rice, Otter wasn’t convinced. Ten days after the CBD bill passed in the House, the governor issued his veto with a message scolding the legislature for passing the bill against the wishes of the state’s law enforcement special interests.
“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,” he wrote in his veto message. “Both the House and Senate were told by the Office of Drug Policy, the Department of Public Welfare, and the Idaho State Police—as well as prosecutors and local law enforcement officers throughout Idaho—that there were too many questions and problems and too few answers and solutions in this bill to let it become law.”
Forced to choose between the families and children who wanted CBD oil legalized and the opposition from law enforcement, Otter chose the latter—though he said he “sympathized with the heartbreaking dilemma” facing Idahoans dealing with debilitating diseases that could potentially be treated with CBD.
Jon Hanian, Otter’s spokesman, says the governor stands by the veto. Asked how that decision squares with decades of professed support for marijuana legalization, Hanian said Otter admits to changing his position. . .
No kidding. What’s the word for when you support something so long as it can’t happen, but when it can happen you oppose it? Opportunism? Hypocrisy? Dishonesty?
Do read the whole thing. It provides quite a bit to ponder. Later, for example:
. . . In his veto message, Otter explained his decision by warning of “the potential for misuse and abuse with criminal intent.” He cited the lack of support from Idaho’s law enforcement groups, and said that legalizing CBD oil could “decrease public safety,” without explaining how.
The law enforcement community’s own explanation for its opposition wasn’t any better.
“It basically opens the door, carte blanche, to make it almost unenforceable for us to be able to stop marijuana or illegal drugs in our communities,” said Shane Turman, president of the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association, at a hearing of the state Senate State Affairs Committee concerning the CBD oil bill in March 2015.
“The bill is the most liberal CBD bill in the country,” declared Bryan Taylor, president of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, at the same hearing. “There are no regulations or safeguards.”
Rice, the Republican legislator who sponsored the CBD legislation, sees things differently. He says the state legislature worked with law enforcement to rewrite parts of the bill in an attempt to address those concerns. The final version of the bill would have required written permission from a doctor before a patient could obtain CBD oil and allowed doctors to prescribe CBD oil only for the treatment of intractable seizures after other medical options had been tried. There was nothing in the CBD bill that would have prevented police from arresting anyone for illegally obtaining or using marijuana or marijuana-derived products. . .
And this is Idaho, which presents itself as supporting the individual, etc. What a bunch of hypocrites.
Later we start to see the real reasons for Otter’s about face:
. . . If we take Otter at his word—and the word of his spokesman—then it was law enforcement’s opposition to the CBD oil bill that convinced the governor to veto it, and general concern about the public safety consequences of legalizing marijuana that convinced him to change his long-held views on the topic.
There may have also been a second factor pushing Otter’s administration to oppose the bill and favor a clinical trial of a particular drug instead.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, or PhRMA, represents drug companies and lobbies on their behalf. According to federal lobbying data aggregated by Maplight, PhRMA has spent more than $150 million on lobbying since 2008—a total that only includes federal advocacy efforts, not similar work done in state capitals.
That’s because states with legal medical marijuana have lower rates of drug prescriptions. In a study published earlier this year, Ashley and W. David Bradford, a daughter-father pair of researchers at the University of Georgia, analyzed state-level prescription drug databases from 2010 through 2013 and found that doctors prescribed significantly fewer pharmaceutical drugs in states with legal medical weed. The largest drop-off was for prescription painkillers, with 1,800 fewer doses prescribed annually in states with medical marijuana laws. They found a significant decline—486 fewer doses annually—in prescriptions for anti-seizure drugs as well.
In Idaho, PhRMA employs two full-time lobbyists to influence public policy. It also spends lots of money helping to elect state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle—including Otter. . .