July 4, 2022

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Judiciary Committee Hears Testimony on Medical Marijuana Bill

3 min read

Natalie Stanley

Nebraska News Service

LINCOLN – The Judiciary Committee heard another draft of marijuana legislation this week, LB474, the Adopt the Medicinal Cannabis Act.

14 marijuana bills have been proposed so far this year.

Senator Anna Wishart of Lincoln introduced LB474 to the committee on Wednesday. Wishart has been working on marijuana legislation for five years. Most recently, she and Lincoln Senator Adam Morfeld attempted to collect nearly 190,000 signatures in 2020 to put medical marijuana in the vote.

However, before voters could cast their ballots, the Nebraska Supreme Court put down the measure. The court said the initiative violated the state’s one-subject rule for constitutional amendments and ordered Nebraska Secretary of State Robert Evnen to remove it from the November vote.

The one-subject rule requires that proposed legislative changes that appear on the ballot contain provisions that are naturally and necessarily related and that together form part of a general subject under Article III-2 of the Nebraska State Constitution.

On March 3, Wishart campaigned for her bill after working to address the concerns of those who opposed the measure. What sets LB474 apart from other medical marijuana legalization bills is its strict language that describes its numerous restrictions.

“We have one of the most restrictive amounts of cannabis anyone can own at once than any other state in the country,” said Wishart. The bill states that patients cannot have more than two and a half ounces in their possession at a time.

Other regulations include how cannabis can be consumed, details of what determines a qualified medical condition, protections for insurance companies and employers, and allowances for counties to determine whether medical pharmacies should be approved within their boundaries.

The two-hour hearing included statements from both sides of the subject.

For LB474, Dr. Amanda McKinney, Assistant Dean of Health Sciences at Doane University. She said that lifetime addiction to marijuana is low at 9%. It is estimated that 9% of those who use cannabis develop clinical addiction, according to a 2007 study. In contrast, alcohol has a rate of 16% while heroin, cocaine and tobacco have rates of 16%, 23% and 32%, respectively.

“Compare this to other medicines, especially psychotropic medicines that we use all the time in medicine,” she said. “This is a much less dangerous drug. Nebraska has a real chance of being the gold standard to truly develop a program that, as I said, is safe and effective for consumers, ”said McKinney.

Two other proponents of LB474 were Crista Eggers and Nicole Hochstein, representatives of the Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis. They focused on the benefits of medical marijuana for people with seizure disorders, especially children.

“Our children deserve medication to get them out of these debilitating seizures. But there is a zip code that prevents this, ”said Hochstein.

Eggers has a son who has drug-resistant epilepsy, and said legal medication and surgery to treat children like her son can have unintended consequences.

“We just want to save our children,” she said.

Wishart and other supporters also cited a 2018 poll that found 77% of Nebraskans support medical marijuana legalization. The survey was commissioned by the Pro-Legalization Marijuana Policy Project.

In the opposition was Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer, Public Health Department of the Nebraska Department of Health. He said legalizing marijuana for any purpose, including medicinal use, poses a risk to the health and safety of Nebraska residents. He referred to a report by the National Academy of Medicine that cannabis use may increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses.

The Justice Committee did not vote on LB474.

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