Changes to marijuana-related crimes proposed

Penalties for possession and manufacture of some marijuana-based products would be created and enhanced under legislation heard by the Judiciary Committee March 6.

LB326, introduced by Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams, would make several changes to the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, including creating crimes for manufacture and possession of edible products containing tetrahydrocannabinols (THC).

The bill would make the manufacture of edible marijuana products a Class III felony, punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a $25,000 fine or both. Possession of edible marijuana products would be a Class IV felony, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a $10,000 fine or both.

The bill also would make possession of substances containing synthetic cannabinoids—also known as K2—a Class IV felony, eliminate terms so that all cannabis products except marijuana fit under the umbrella of THC, add more items to the list of controlled substances and update the definition of THC.

Williams said marijuana use is a growing problem in Nebraska due to it being legalized in Colorado in 2012. Easier access to the drug and increased concentrations of THC in edible products is a dangerous trend, especially for young people, he said.

“I hope to send a clear message that marijuana … and other drugs are harmful to their development and to their future,” Williams said.

Ronald Bartzatt of the University of Nebraska at Omaha chemistry department testified in support of the bill, saying marijuana is the most abused illicit drug. Marijuana smoke contains more than 50 carcinogens, he said, and despite its broad use and legalization in some areas of the country, Nebraska should continue to criminalize it.

“Marijuana should remain identified as a dangerous drug,” Bartzatt said.

Cheyenne County Sheriff John Jensen also spoke in favor of the bill. Felony penalties for edible marijuana products are appropriate, he said, because dealers can easily sell them to children.

“One of the dangerous things we face today is the increase in THC levels,” he said.

Kali Smith also spoke in favor of LB326, saying synthetic marijuana caused her son, Tyler, to commit suicide. There were no deaths attributed to synthetic marijuana in 2014, Smith said, which shows that stringent drug laws passed by the Unicameral have worked.

“That is a huge victory and we want to keep that going with this law,” Smith said.

Tonja Peterson-Wendt of Omaha testified in opposition to the bill, saying penalties regarding edible marijuana products proposed in the bill are too strict.

“You should not punish people for trying to end their physical pain,” she said.

Aaron Weiler agreed. The felony charge for possessing edible marijuana products proposed in the bill could cause more people to try synthetic cannabinoids, he said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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