Legalization of medical cannabis stalls

A bill that would approve certain forms of cannabis for medical use did not advance from general file May 12 after a motion to end debate and force a vote on the proposal failed.

Sen. Anna Wishart
Sen. Anna Wishart

LB474, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, would create a framework for legalizing medical cannabis use in Nebraska.

A constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis received overwhelming support from Nebraskans, Wishart said, but was blocked by a last-minute legal challenge from appearing on the 2020 general election ballot.

She said it is time for Nebraska to view patients as sick people in need of assistance, not criminals.

“This bill will not fail because of a lack of compromise or thoughtfulness on the part of myself and medical cannabis advocates,” Wishart said. “If it fails, it is because of the political pressure from a few who wield their power to stamp out the voice of the people.”

To qualify for a medical cannabis registration card under the bill, a person must receive written certification that medical cannabis would improve their condition from a health care practitioner with whom they have an established, bonafide relationship.

Registered medical cannabis users could purchase cannabis through regulated in-state dispensaries or home delivery from out-of-state suppliers. Patients would be limited to no more than two and one-half ounces of cannabis — or a greater amount approved by a medical necessity waiver — or cannabis infused products with no more than 2,000 milligrams of THC.

Cannabis infused edible products — other than pills — and cannabis used in vaporizers would not be permitted.

LB474 would prohibit any registered user of medical cannabis from driving, operating a boat, train or aircraft, or undertaking any task that would be negligent or constitute malpractice while under the influence of cannabis. They also could not work on transportation equipment, property or facilities.

Medical cannabis would not be covered by Medicaid under the bill and private insurers would not be required to cover its costs. Any registered user who sells their medical cannabis would suffer immediate revocation of their registration card.

A pending Judiciary Committee amendment would limit the chronic illnesses that could qualify for medical cannabis use to a specific list, including epilepsy, chronic pain, cancer and PTSD that has failed all other conventional treatments.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop spoke in support of LB474. If the measure fails to pass this session, he said, advocates will push successfully to legalize all forms of marijuana in the state.

“It’s time that we accept the responsibility to [pass] this and regulate it,” Lathrop said. “If we don’t, what we’re going to have is an amendment to the [state] constitution that is simple, straightforward and won’t permit us the regulation we’d like and that we have the opportunity to do today.”

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue also supported the bill. Research has shown that medical cannabis can alleviate the opioid addiction crisis among veterans, she said.

“An estimated 65 percent of veterans suffer from chronic pain and are twice as likely to die from an accidental overdose caused be prescription [opioids], more so than non-veterans,” Blood said. “Our veterans are looking for alternatives. In fact, the VA has made it clear that veterans who use cannabis are not in danger of losing VA benefits — and that’s because it’s safe.”

Despite his personal objections to marijuana use, Norfolk Sen. Mike Flood said he was open to legalizing medical cannabis.

“If we want to avert recreational marijuana, we’re going to have to think about something very restrictive or we will see it everywhere and it will be bad,” he said. “I don’t want to see it in every strip mall, I don’t want to see it on every corner … I really don’t want any of it, to be honest, but I’m not going to close my eyes to what I see as human suffering.”

Peru Sen. Julie Slama filed a motion to bracket the bill until June 11, 2021, which effectively would end debate on LB474 for this session. She said the proposal likely was unconstitutional and would improperly preempt federal regulations.

Speaking in support of the bracket motion and in opposition to the bill was Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist. She said lab-created marijuana with “extraordinarily high” levels of THC is far from the natural plant curated for thousands of years and touted by proponents of LB474.

“What we’re talking about with this bill is an unlimited, uncapped THC level,” Geist said. “There’s actually no therapeutic use for highly concentrated levels of THC and this bill allows for [that].”

Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon opposed LB474 but acknowledged that the right proposal possibly could yield good outcomes in the future.

He said he spent two years after retiring from the U.S. Army working with wounded veterans. Of the 27 soldiers he worked with, Brewer said, nine had died by suicide.

“Sometimes, leaving reality is the part that really causes you to lose track of life and its purpose,” he said. “I worry that the way we would use a self-dispensing painkiller could have negative effects, not positive.”

The bracket motion failed on a 16-27 vote.

After eight hours of debate, Wishart offered a motion to invoke cloture, which would end debate and force a vote on the bill and any pending amendments.

The cloture motion failed 31-18. Thirty-three votes were needed. A failed cloture motion results in debate on a proposal ceasing for the day. LB474 is unlikely to be placed on the agenda again this session.

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