Supporters tell Nebraska lawmakers marijuana is safe medical option, not ‘devil lettuce’

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — Marijuana took center stage once again at the State Capitol on Thursday. 

It began at 9:30 a.m. with a hearing on the Medicinal Cannabis Act, or LB 588.

Nebraska, Kansas and Idaho are the only states that don’t allow access to marijuana in any form. The other 47 states allow it at least for medicinal purposes, and 21 permit recreational use.

State Sens. Jen Day and Anna Wishart have pushed for this legislation for years now.

Many supporters argue that cannabis is already easy to obtain, even though it’s illegal. 

Several doctors testified at the hearing, including Dr. Amanda McKinney, who said marijuana is much safer than other drugs.

She said cannabis has a lifetime dependence risk of about 9%. In comparison, alcohol is about 14%, cocaine about 17%, and nicotine is 32%.

“We don’t bat an eye at people going to the bar every day and having some drinks after work,” McKinney said. “That’s almost seen as normal in our culture. And we look at cannabis as though it’s some kind of devil lettuce, right? But that’s ultimately not the reality.”

Several supporters said medicinal marijuana would help treat Nebraskans with conditions such as epilepsy and seizures.

Dominic Gillen, whose son Will is nonverbal and suffers from hundreds of seizures a day, said over the past 10 years, his family has been working to get medicinal marijuana legalized.

“If Will could give his own testimony,” Gillen said, “this is what I think he might say, and this is hard for me: ‘Senators, why do you think so little of me, that you can’t find some compromise to give me hope for a more normal life. You often talk about the youth of Nebraska and how you want to protect them. What about me? I’m part of that youth. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to get that same level of concern.'”

Opponents say legalizing the drug even for medical purposes would be a slippery slope toward recreational use.

Col. John Bolduc, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, said there would likely be an increase in black market activity if medicinal marijuana were legal.

“When I was a police chief in California, which was a medical marijuana-only state from 1998 to 2018, I routinely saw the diversion of medical marijuana products to the black market there,” he said. “In addition, we expect the partial legalization of marijuana will increase the burden on the Nebraska State Patrol Crime Lab.”

Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers said more research needs to be done before cannabis can be allowed to be prescribed.

He said since the federal government hasn’t legalized it, the state shouldn’t either.

“The Constitution says that when a federal and state law are in conflict, under the supremacy clause, state laws are void,” Hilgers said. “This is an evolving area of research that requires medical professionals and the proper processes to understand and approve, and that is through the FDA and similar processes.”

Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon and a representative of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services also testified against the bill.

Last year, an initiative in support of medical cannabis failed to receive enough valid signatures to make its way to the November ballot. 

The Medicinal Cannabis Act hearing wasn’t the only one involving marijuana on Thursday.

The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on two bills in the afternoon.

Sen. Justin Wayne’s proposal (LB 22) would decriminalize use and possession of marijuana.

And Sen. Terrell McKinney’s bill (LB 634) would allow the sale of recreational cannabis in Nebraska for anyone over 21. 

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