FIRTH — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter strongly hinted Wednesday that, if a bill to legalize cannabidiol oil reaches his desk, he will veto it.
Speaking to a full house at a “Capital for a Day” event at Firth City Hall, Otter was responding to a question about whether he was concerned about any bills the Legislature is considering. Otter said he “always reserve(s) judgment on a bill until the bill reaches my desk.”
“It’s never been my design to say I’m going to veto a bill or I’m going to sign a bill,” he said.
However, Otter gave the example of a bill legalizing marijuana as something that, were it to pass, would worry him. He also mentioned CBD oil, a non-psychoactive oil made from cannabis that advocates say has numerous medical uses.
“Which just passed the House,” said former Idaho Falls legislator and now-Tax Commissioner Janet Moyle, who was sitting to Otter’s left.
“Well, I vetoed it once,” Otter replied.
Otter, who had just returned to Idaho around midnight after several days in Washington, D.C., then asked a few questions about the House vote. What was the margin? Veto-proof? Lt. Gov. Brad Little nodded.
In 2015 Otter vetoed a bill to let parents possess CBD oil to treat their children, although he did create a state-run CBD oil testing program that some children with severe seizures disorders have taken part in. On Wednesday morning, the House voted 59-11 for a bill sponsored by Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, to legalize CBD oil if it is prescribed. It now heads to the Senate.
Otter said CBD supporters include not just concerned parents but people who support marijuana legalization, which Otter opposes. He said allowing CBD could lead to a cultural shift in Idaho on marijuana.
“I think it could be just the beginning,” Otter said. “It’s the camel’s nose under the tent. We’ll find ourselves with a camel inside and you’re outside.”
CBD oil was just one of many controversial topics that came up at Wednesday’s “Capital for a Day,” an event Otter holds periodically in small communities where he and members of his cabinet hear from the public. Many of the questions came from a group of Firth High School students.
Otter said he views drug abuse as Idaho’s biggest problem. He said restricting drugs is consistent with his vision of a government that protects freedom.
“When a person is hooked on drugs, they’re no longer free,” he said.
Otter said he has never tried any illegal drugs himself.
“I’m afraid I’ll like them,” he said. “I remember when I used to smoke (cigarettes), and boy, getting that monkey off my back.”
Gun control and school shootings have been among the most-discussed topics in the country since 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., two weeks ago. Otter said he isn’t against arming teachers, but that it is just part of the answer.
“I feel like that may be one of the possibilities we have to harden our schools to protect our students,” he said.
Idaho State Police Director Kedrick Wills also said arming teachers could be a piece of the solution, especially in more remote areas where it can take a long time for police to respond.
“Our answer has to be a local answer,” he said. “A statewide approach doesn’t work because the resources are not uniform.”
However, Otter said local police would have to know if any teachers have guns.
“You’ve got an active shooter in this school, but you’ve got three teachers who are armed,” Otter said. “You’ve got to know who they are.”
Otter said he favors banning bump stocks, an attachment to allow semiautomatic rifles to fire more quickly that was used by the shooter who killed 58 people in Las Vegas last October. However, he opposes raising the minimum age to possess a long gun, which has come up since the Parkland shooting — the suspect is 19. Otter talked about the role of guns in Idaho’s culture, and about his first shotgun and single-shot rifle when he was 11. If other states want to raise the age, he said, that’s up to them.
“Let me have the citizens of Idaho learn as quickly and as young as possible the responsibility and the accountability for the use of a gun,” he said. “That’s the answer.”
Otter kicked off this year’s legislative session with an executive order to let insurers sell plans that don’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s requirements. This has drawn national attention, with questions about how the federal government will react and how it could impact policy in other states. Otter also backed a plan to expand coverage to about 35,000 uninsured Idahoans by offering them tax credits to buy insurance on the state exchange, while also moving a few thousand of the sickest people from the exchange onto Medicaid. This would require two federal waivers to implement. But the Idaho House voted Tuesday to return the bill to committee, with Speaker Scott Bedke saying it didn’t have the votes to pass.
In a brief interview as he left City Hall, Otter said he met with federal health care officials while he was in Washington to discuss Idaho’s plans.
“They weren’t negative on what we asked, and they weren’t overly positive on what we asked,” he said.
In the past, Otter has said he would not act to expand coverage without the Legislature, but Wednesday he said he plans to move forward with asking for the waivers. Even if the Legislature doesn’t act?
“Oh, yeah,” he said as he walked away.
Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews