Representatives from the Idaho Office of Drug Policy met with the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Tuesday to discuss clinical testing of cannabis oil, which is showing "promising results" in the treatment of seizure patients.
The meeting was streamed live from Boise on idahoptv.org/insession - a collaborative effort among Idaho Public Television, the Legislative Services Office, and the Idaho Department of Administration.
Committee Chairman Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, said during the meeting that committee members have been getting questions about legalizing the oil for medicinal use.
Elisha Figueroa, administrator of the IODP, explained to lawmakers that cannabis oil, or cannabidiol (CBD) oil, is derived from one of the 60 compounds in a marijuana plant.
It does not contain THC, the psychoactive compound that gets marijuana users high.
"We are interested in this because there has been some anecdotal evidence that it could help with seizure disorders," Figueroa said.
In fact, she said, many states are legalizing CBD oil for medicinal purposes, but added she still has concerns about legalization.
Figueroa said first and foremost, marijuana is still ranked as a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, and Idaho would be in violation of federal law if it did legalize it.
She said even though the U.S. Department of Justice has turned a blind eye, she said a new attorney general may not be as tolerant.
Figueroa also said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not regulating the production of the oils now, so consumers cannot be sure that what they are buying is safe.
"It also removes the medical community from the issue," she said. "You can't get it from a pharmacy, but you can get it from a bud dispenser in Colorado."
While the science is promising, Figueroa said they still don't know enough about possible interactions with other drugs and potential side effects.
However, she said there are two pharmaceutical companies manufacturing the oil and testing it through the FDA. One doctor in Idaho is reportedly going to participate in that study, she said.
GW Pharmaceuticals has been granted "orphan program" status from the FDA so it can study its new CBD oil called Epidiolex, which is being tested on children with a rare form of epilepsy.
Figueroa said she has been in discussions with regulators in Utah, which legalized CBD oil last year, and she has learned a lot from them.
"Some of them felt like their parents were sold a bill of goods," she said, explaining that parents were expecting a miracle drug. "And it scares them as state employees recommending something they don't know enough about."
Overall, Figueroa said, the IODP is supportive of the FDA study, and recommended the state wait to see the results before addressing the issue.
"At this point we don't have enough science to pass a law to legalize it," she concluded.
Committee members didn't have any questions for Figueroa, but Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, had an observation after looking at a map of states that have legalized marijuana in one form or another.
"In the west, it appears like Idaho and Wyoming would be the only states for businesses to locate if they are concerned about drug testing," he said, asking Figueroa if she has talked with the Department of Commerce about that.
Figueroa said she has not talked with other agencies about that, but said it was a good idea and she plans to pursue it.
"I for one am receiving a lot of questions about this," Heider said, adding he preferred to wait for the drug to go though the pharmaceutical process first.