Amid rise in kids getting sick from edibles, what’s the future of marijuana in Nebraska?

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — New research shows a spike in the number of kids who’ve gotten sick by eating marijuana edibles.

The study published Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics found over 7,000 confirmed cases of children under the age of 6 who ate marijuana edibles between 2017 and 2021.

Nearly 25% of the children ended up in a hospital, and some of them were seriously ill.

The national data comes as debate over legalizing medical cannabis in Nebraska is expected to be renewed with the start of the next legislative session.

The analysis also shows that reports of children consuming edibles to the nation’s poison control centers have gone up from roughly 200 per year to more than 3,000.

The jump in cases happened as more states were legalizing both medical and recreational cannabis.

Nebraska, Kansas and Idaho are the only states that don’t allow access to marijuana in any form. The other 47 states allow marijuana for medical purposes, and 21 states have gone a step further, permitting recreational use.

Adam Morfeld, former state senator and co-chair of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, said there are a number of benefits to medicinal marijuana, including treatment for PTSD, seizures and cancer.

“Right now, the substance is illegal in Nebraska and people can still get ahold of it, so legalizing it would actually make it so that there’s more regulation and also more control over who has access,” he said.

Some are calling for new laws to make edibles look less appealing to kids.  They’re often packaged to look like candy that children could easily mistake as a typical snack.

Sen. Terrell McKinney said if tobacco and alcohol companies are allowed to legally sell products despite the dangers that come with them, then marijuana should be legalized as well.

“Tobacco companies can’t advertise to kids or package things in a certain way,” he said. “And they just restricted the Juul thing because they felt like it was marketed to teens and youth. We could get around a packaging issue.”

McKinney said there’s a lot of propaganda surrounding marijuana products, which has kept it from being legalized.

Gov. Pete Ricketts has previously stated his opposition to legalization, saying after it happened in Colorado, there was an increase in criminal activity and abuse of the drug.

He said that the Food and Drug Administration determines whether a drug constitutes safe and effective medical treatment and that any legalization efforts outside of their approval process puts Nebraskans at risk.

Sens. Jen Day and Anna Wishart have both said they are planning to introduce new legislation after two petitions failed to make the ballot last year.

The senators have not said whether their proposals would address anything related to packaging or preventing children from accidentally consuming marijuana.

Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon said while he won’t be publicly supporting or opposing legalization, he is open to advising the senators as they write their bills.

This year’s legislative session is set to last 90 days.

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