Josh Phillips of Salmon, Idaho, has had a remarkable young life. Despite being diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy at the age of 10, a condition that causes dangerous seizures, Josh battled in the ring at high school to be crowned champion wrestler.
At just 17, following the conclusion of a wrestling match, Josh suffered a life-threatening seizure and had to be fast-tracked to ER. It was the worst seizure Josh had ever experienced and his wrestling coach was worried he wouldn’t make it.
Two years on and Josh has a much harder fight, against Idaho’s state government to get the medication he needs, and could get in neighbor states, that would help him to control these debilitating seizures.
Josh needs CBD oil, a marijuana-derived treatment that uses the non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) cannabinoid in the plant. If he was living in Utah or Wyoming, Josh would have a CBD solution, but in Idaho, to medicate with this oil would be breaking state law.
These epileptic seizures are having a significant effect on the 19-year-old’s life, stopping him from moving out, going to college or even driving. Brain surgery and multiple traditional medications have been tried, but nothing has worked like the Phillips family believe CBD oil could.
Not that Idaho’s lawmakers have set out to harm Josh – a bill to legalize CBD oil was passed in Idaho’s Senate and House back in 2015. But influential special interests and a flip-flopping governor managed to overturn the bill, leaving Josh and other patients in need of CBD out of luck.
Idaho’s Office of Drug Policy was vital in stopping the CBD legislation, according to emails acquired by Reason. With Governor Butch Otter known to be unhappy about the bill’s passing, these special interests (including pharmaceutical companies and cops) ganged up to deliver Idahoans a different medicating program to the one patients like Josh were promised – a program that has done nothing to help with their seizures.
Even worse, for decades Butch Otter was supportive for a more relaxed attitude to drugs, calling for the end of prohibition, but once in a position to follow through on that desire he choked, opting to please special interests over the state legislature and electorate. If nothing else, it diminishes faith in Idaho’s political system if legislation can be blocked in this way.
Idaho Freedom Foundation president Wayne Hoffman damned the move as “counterproductive and heartless” in a letter that featured in the Idaho State Journal. In Idaho, the entire marijuana plant is illegal, and the state is one of the least progressive in the nation on cannabis.
Hoffman questioned whether possessing and consuming CBD oil was a “crime against society,” before dangling that accusation over politicians, claiming they allow the current situation to continue because they “fear personal responsibility”.
An estimated one-third of America’s three million epilepsy patients are not being well-served by the country’s standard prescribed medications. Meanwhile, the American Epilepsy Society (AES) has been willing to listen to the marijuana and CBD case, backing quality studies on the cannabinoid, and noting that the lack of available evidence right now doesn’t detract from CBD’s potential.
On their website, the AES points to the growing anecdotal reports of CBD’s effectiveness in tackling rare forms of epilepsy, like Dravet syndrome – just look at the case of Charlotte Figi, whose story received mainstream, national attention. The society has called for both government and private-funded research on CBD and epilepsy and for marijuana to be downgraded from a Schedule I substance.
For Josh Phillips, it’s a waiting game – but he isn’t about to leave his home in Salmon. Even though he’s aware that other families in his situation have upped sticks to a legalized state, Josh and his family say action must come from the government, not them. “I like to win, not lose,” he said. Fighting talk from the champion wrestler.