New marijuana definitions and penalties considered

Definitions of real and synthetic marijuana and penalties for their possession would be revised under legislation heard by the Judiciary Committee Jan. 28.

LB189, introduced by Hyannis Sen. Al Davis, would define marijuana concentrate as any compound or mixture obtained from a cannabis plant, which contains any quantifiable amount of tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). The definition would not include concentrates extracted from industrial hemp.

The bill would make possession of marijuana concentrate subject to the same penalties as those for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, but would make jail time optional for a third offense.

Current law states that offenders guilty of possessing of less than one ounce of marijuana are subject to the following penalties:
• first offense is an infraction punishable by a $300 fine and attendance in a drug counseling course according to the court’s discretion;
• second offense is a Class IV misdemeanor punishable by a $400 fine and up to five days’ imprisonment; and
• third and all subsequent offenses are Class IIIA misdemeanors punishable by a $500 fine and up to seven days’ imprisonment.

The bill also would add synthetic THC to the list of synthetic cannabinoids and defines it as any equivalent of the substances contained in a cannabis plant or their derivatives.

The penalty for first offense possession of synthetic THC would be the same as a first offense possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. For the second and subsequent offenses, the offender would be guilty of a Class IIIA misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine and up to seven days’ imprisonment.

Davis said the bill is largely designed to address the inconsistent penalties being dispensed by Nebraska courts for possession of edible products containing marijuana. Law enforcement cannot quickly and accurately determine the amount of THC in marijuana-laced food, Davis said, so the bill allows officers to enforce possession laws regardless of those THC levels.

The new definition for marijuana concentrate gives law enforcement a clear direction for dealing with the wide variety of marijuana-infused products that are brought into Nebraska from Colorado, a state that permits marijuana possession and sales.

“We’re helping them by defining what they can arrest for,” Davis said.

Thomas Strigenz of the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association testified in favor of the bill. Typically marijuana offenders are “stupid kids making stupid decisions,” he said. Keeping the penalties less severe lets them make mistakes and move on with their lives without carrying the crime on their permanent record, he said.

Alan Peterson of American Civil Liberties Union Nebraska also supported the bill, saying it provided a “reasonable moderation of severe penalties” that could ruin young lives.

Kevin Stukenholtz of the Nebraska Sheriffs’ Association testified in opposition to the bill. He said products that contain THC are too dangerous and penalties for possession should not be softened.

“The bill sends the wrong message and will likely lead to increased usage in our state,” he said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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