LINCOLN–Voters could choose to legalize medical marijuana this November under a proposed constitutional amendment heard by the Judiciary Committee Thursday.
Introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, Legislative Resolution 293CA would grant Nebraskans the constitutional right to “use or consume medicinal cannabis products, regardless of form, to treat or relieve any medical condition or illness.”
If passed, the constitutional amendment also would give the Legislature regulatory authority over medical marijuana, but only if those regulations preserve the right of citizens to consume the drug for medical reasons.
“I am back this year with a second option,” Wishart said, referencing the amendment. “If some of my colleagues are uncomfortable voting in support of a medical cannabis system, then at least they should let their constituents have a vote.”
LR 293CA is Wishart’s second attempt to pass medical marijuana legislation in Nebraska after her previous bill failed to overcome a filibuster in 2016.
In her statement to the eight-member committee, she cited strong support and citizen need for medical marijuana.
In a 2017 poll, 77 percent of likely Nebraska voters supported medical marijuana ballot initiatives, she said. She noted of those polled, voters across the political spectrum expressed strong support.
Wishart’s frustration with the Legislature’s failure to act was matched by those who spoke in support of the amendment.
“Our family has been begging and pleading with all 49 senators on our Legislature for five years now,” Shelley Gillen of Bellevue said in support of her son who suffers from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
She said this rare disorder causes several types of seizures and affects cognitive development. Her son is 15 but his development is comparable to that of a 2-year-old, she said.
“Doesn’t his life matter?” she asked the committee. “Why are we more concerned with protecting the potential abuser, rather than those who are innocently sick and suffering?”
In total, 14 citizens spoke in support of the amendment, often with impassioned pleas. Many cited the dangers and addictive nature of pharmaceuticals and the country’s opioid epidemic as reasons they support the medical marijuana amendment.
Amy Miller, ACLU of Nebraska’s legal director, also spoke in favor of the amendment. She argued against past opponents of similar legislation stating, “There is strong case law support indicating that Congress has chosen to leave this [issue] up to the states.”
Opposition to the amendment originated from Nebraska’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Thomas Williams, the Nebraska Attorney General’s office and one local anesthesiologist. Arguing against the amendment, they cited a lack of medical marijuana research and the fact that federal law still prohibits the drug’s use.
Nebraska Assistant Attorney General Ryan Post said that the amendment would ultimately violate federal laws and stated that “the Legislature should not expose Nebraska in this way.”
Williams echoed Post’s concerns and emphasized the lack of what he considered adequate research.
“There are potential risks for the products,” he said. “Because of the lack of evidential research” there is no existing standard for therapeutic administration of marijuana.
Committee members Sens. Adam Morfeld and Patty Pansing Brooks, both of Lincoln, and Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha were critical of arguments presented against the bill–arguments they considered tired and contrived.
“My concern is that the opponents of medical marijuana…always point to ‘the lack of research, the lack of research,'” Morfeld said. “But the same advocacy groups that oppose marijuana are the ones that are advocating against actual research, and the ability to have that research on the federal level; it’s a very disingenuous circular argument that I often see.”
The Judicial Committee took no immediate action on LR 293CA.