How Idaho’s Drug Warriors Robbed Epileptic Children of their Only Hope—CBD Oil

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When Josh Phillips of Salmon, Idaho (population 3,300) was 10 years old, doctors diagnosed him with a type of epilepsy that causes severe seizures. But that didn’t stop Josh from becoming a champion wrestler in high school.

Two years ago, on the way home from a wrestling match with the Salmon High team, Josh was rushed to the ER when he suffered the worst seizure of his life.

“We thought we were going to lose him,” Jason Bruce, the team’s coach, told

Now 19, Josh’s future health depends on how the state government chooses to treat him. If Josh was living in any state contiguous to Idaho, including Wyoming or Utah, he could get CBD oil treatment, which he and his family believe would best relieve his suffering. But, because he lives in Idaho, such treatment is considered a crime.

Josh has tried more than a dozen different medications and even underwent brain surgery, but the seizures continue and are preventing him from going to college, moving out of his parents’ house or driving a car.

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, the state capital.

Emails obtained by Reason reveal a behind-the-scenes effort organized by the state’s Office of Drug Policy to derail the CBD legislation. After the CBD bill passed against the wishes of Governor Butch Otter and his administration, these groups used their executive authority to replace it 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. One man call what Otter did a “crime against society” for saying no to the CBD bill.

“This is one of the problems of Idaho’s counterproductive and heartless marijuana statutes, which say every single part of the cannabis plant, from stem to stern, so to speak, is illegal,” Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, wrote in a letter to the Idaho State Journal.

“Is CBD oil possession and consumption a crime against society?” Hoffman asked. “Or, is the real crime being committed by politicians who so fear personal responsibility that they’re willing to allow this injustice to continue?”

More than 3 million Americans suffer from epilepsy, and about one-third of them have a form of the disease that does not respond well to pharmaceutical treatments.

The American Epilepsy Society (AES) supports all well-controlled studies and has said that limited scientific evidence does not mean CBD is ineffective.

“The anecdotal reports of positive effects of the marijuana derivative cannabidiol (CBD) for some individuals with treatment-resistant epilepsy give reason for hope,” according to the AES website, in which they call on government and private funders to support well-designed clinical research into all promising treatments for epilepsy. The AES has also called for the removal of marijuana from the Schedule I list.

While other families have moved to states where CDB is legal, Josh and his family say they will stay in Salmon. It’s the government, they say, that must change.

“I like to win, not lose,”Josh said. “I’ll fight until I win.”

1 comment
  1. I lived in Salmon for several years. I went to high school there, briefly moved out of Idaho for about two years, then I moved back and lived there and in nearby cities for about 6 years. I’ve been arrested twice for cannabis-related offenses in Salmon and I can personally attest to the dogmatic zeal exhibited by the local courts and police. Given that Idaho is literally surrounded by states that all have some form of legal cannabis access, and that all of those states individually and collectively have years worth of data that proves the “dangers” of cannabis are wildly exaggerated, there is no logical reason to continue ruining people’s lives and denying them relief from debilitating medical conditions. The hostility toward cannabis by Idaho lawmakers and law enforcement is largely based in ignorance, fear, and misunderstandings of the Bible. Not to mention the court fees and fines as well as probation costs for people convicted of cannabis offenses incentivizes harsh sentencing. I feel really bad for this guy. I hope he can get the relief he needs, sadly this will likely require moving to a neighboring state.

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