The unfortunate — and, for people suffering from severe illnesses in the state — tragic fact is that there is no Nebraska medical marijuana program. There is no legal way for patients to legally obtain therapeutic cannabis. Nebraska is one of only five states (Indiana, Kansas, South Dakota and West Virginia are the others) that completely prohibits the use of medicinal weed. This is despite the fact that 28 states have comprehensive medical marijuana programs and 15 others at least allow some patients to access cannabidiol (CBD) oil to treat seizures.
Even though advocates are fighting an admirable fight, the deck simply seems stacked against them. And it will likely continue to be that way for the foreseeable future.
A state senator introduced a bill during the 2017 Nebraska legislative session that would allow patients to use marijuana products, but would not allow for either the smoking or cultivation of the plant. Patients would be able to use medical pot in liquid, vapor or pill form and could only obtain weed from state-licensed manufacturers.
A similar bill was approved during the 2016 session, but a group of lawmakers started a filibuster that ultimately killed the legislation. In order to be able to defeat a filibuster, the bill must have 33 votes. With a large group of new legislators who don’t have any sort of track record on the issue of Nebraska medical marijuana, as of March 2017 it was extremely unclear as to how the vote would go.
While there were 17 new senators, 10 supporters of the 2016 bill were no longer in the Legislature. So, in order to have any chance of passing, the bill would need help from conservatives.
In January 2017, a bill was introduced to adopt the Medical Cannabis Act. Marijuana Doctors will keep Nebraska patients updated on the status of this bill.
But even if the bill were to pass, it was nearly a certainty that it would be vetoed by ultra-conservative Governor Pete Ricketts. Ricketts went so far as to post an announcement on his state website condemning marijuana as “a dangerous drug.” He uses much of the same anti-marijuana rhetoric that opponents of medicinal weed have used for years. He points to Colorado as an example of everything that’s wrong about legalizing pot, saying “controls have fallen short” and that sheriffs he has spoken with say that criminal activity has increased along the Colorado-Nebraska border.
Then he says marijuana’s medicinal value has not been tested and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a “process in place” to make sure drugs are safe and effective. But that’s the Catch-22 of the argument: As long as the federal government continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, the FDA won’t perform the research necessary to prove once and for all that cannabis is safe and therapeutic.
Ricketts also wrote that scientific and pharmaceutical experts should perform thorough studies of the merits of cannabis. But they can’t get access to enough marijuana in order to perform those thorough studies.
If trying to establish a program that would bring medical marijuana to Nebraska patients weren’t already hard enough, the state was in the process of confirming the appointment of a chief medical officer who is not only against the use of weed for any reason, but is also against the use of any cannabis byproducts. Dr. Thomas Williams was expected to easily win confirmation — yet another blow to Nebraska medical marijuana advocates.
The senator who introduced the new medical marijuana bill, Anna Wishart, said she never heard anyone have anything negative to say about medicinal cannabis during her campaign. Even her opponent, Dick Clark, a Republican, said the same thing. He was even in support of her bill.
Clark’s brother was bedridden for several years due to a combination of diabetes and a car accident that caused multiple fractures in his spine. According to Clark, his brother was taking as many as 11 different types of painkillers (including extremely dangerous opioids) as well as diabetes medications, leaving him so “doped” that he could barely communicate. He also said his brother’s doctors told him that he would probably suffer from liver failure due to the high number of opioids he was using.
But Clark’s brother moved to Colorado (where medical cannabis as well as recreational pot are legal) and his life turned around. He is now in such good health that he traveled to a scenic river trail and paddled 600 miles, according to Clark.
As much of a feel-good story that is, however, the hard fact remains that opposition to medical marijuana in Nebraska is as formidable as you’ll find anywhere in the country. It seems it will be a waste of time to try and change minds in the state Legislature, so a ballot initiative may be the only alternative. However, the effort it takes to get such an issue on a statewide ballot is immense, costing an estimated $1 million. Advertising the initiative would take millions more.
But if proponents are passionate enough, wiling to work hard enough and can get enough financial backing, they may finally be able to overcome the opposition and finally bring relief to patients who need the benefits of medicinal cannabis.
If LB 622 is passed, the state of Nebraska will adopt the Medical Cannabis Act.