Constitutional amendment would legalize medical cannabis

The legalization of medical cannabis would be placed on the ballot for voters’ consideration under a measure presented to the Judiciary Committee Feb. 8.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist27' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Anna Wishart'>Sen. Anna Wishart</a>
Sen. Anna Wishart

LR293CA, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, would put the issue on the November 2018 general election ballot. A poll commissioned last year by the Marijuana Policy Project found that 77 percent of likely Nebraska voters would vote to legalize medical cannabis, she said.

“I have heard overwhelming support from across the state, from moms dealing with their children’s seizures, older people with arthritis, people with multiple sclerosis and cancer patients,” she said. “Nebraskans deserve a chance to vote on this issue.”

If approved by voters, people would have the right to use medical cannabis products—regardless of their form—to treat or relieve any medical condition or illness. Use of medical cannabis would be subject to any law, rule or regulation passed by the Legislature, as long as it would not infringe on people’s right to consume.

The state would not have to worry about federal drug laws pre-empting legalization at the state level, said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller in support of the measure. She said concerns about a state marijuana law violating the federal Constitution are unfounded.

“There is strong case-law support that shows Congress has already chosen to leave this issue up to the states,” Miller said. “When Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, they already knew that Nebraska and 18 other states considered possession of less than an ounce of marijuana just an infraction and they did nothing.”

Lia McDowell Post of Springfield also supported the proposed amendment. She said cannabis has helped her to manage her complex regional pain syndrome for a year, but by doing so she is technically committing a crime.

“I’ve given up drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, sugar, gluten, caffeine, my blood pressure medicine, my anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, anti-epileptics, opioids and sedatives and I’m still a criminal,” she said. “It is time to come together and make a change to this archaic way of thinking.”

A 2014 car accident that resulted in severe nerve damage, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and glaucoma made Joseph Guinan of Omaha a supporter of medical cannabis. He said he truly did not understand the benefits of cannabis until he experienced it firsthand.

“The fact that there are families who are uprooting and moving to states that have legalized, no one just does that without a good reason,” Guinan said. “If cannabis helps someone get through the day pain free and stress free, they should have access to it.”

Opposing the measure was Ryan Post, representing the state attorney general. He disagreed that the state has the authority to legalize a substance currently prohibited by the federal government.

“If this constitutional amendment were passed by the Legislature and adopted by the voters, it would need to have enabling legislation,” Post said. “Federal law would preempt any legislation the Legislature would enact that is in conflict with the Controlled Substances Act.”

Dr. Monica Oldenburg, an anesthesiologist in Lincoln, also opposed the measure. She said much of the marijuana available today has alarmingly high levels of tetrahydrocannabinols, the chemical compound responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects.

More research is needed on cannabis and its side effects, Oldenburg said, before the state can expect physicians to prescribe it with any measure of confidence.

“We have no good long-term studies on the effects of high potency marijuana and this bill has no provision to control THC levels,” she said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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