LINCOLN — Two doctors and a lawyer warned Nebraska state lawmakers Thursday not to put medical marijuana on the ballot.
They discussed marijuana’s continued illegality under federal law, the need for more scientific research and the likelihood that children would gain access to highly potent forms of the drug.
Many more people, however, told stories of depression, debilitating cancers, addiction to opioids and children held hostage by violent seizures. They pleaded with the senators to let voters decide if Nebraska should join the 29 other states with broad medical cannabis programs.
“I do what I must do to make more of myself than the nothingness my pain wants me to be, but still, I’m a criminal,” said Lia McDowell Post of Springfield, in emotional testimony about her chronic pain disorder.
The Judiciary Committee also heard from the sponsor of Legislative Resolution 293CA that a recent survey found strong support for a medical cannabis ballot measure in Nebraska. State Sen. Anna Wishart said the phone survey last November even found 68 percent of Republicans in favor of allowing doctors to recommend the drug to their patients.
A total of 77 percent of respondents said they would vote yes on a medical cannabis ballot measure and 22 percent said they would vote no. Commissioned by the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project and conducted by a California public research firm, the survey reported a margin of error of 4.9 percent.
“If some of my colleagues are uncomfortable voting in support of a medical cannabis system, then at least they should let their constituents have a vote,” she said. “Nebraskans deserve a chance to vote on this issue.”
Previous attempts in the Legislature to pass legislation allowing medical cannabis have been stymied by filibusters, which can be defeated only with at least 33 votes from the 49 senators. The Judiciary Committee is almost certain to advance Wishart’s resolution to the floor, where, as a resolution, it would need 30 votes to pass.
In addition, it would not be subject to a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has said he opposes allowing medical marijuana in the state.
If approved by lawmakers, the resolution would ask voters in the November general election if they want to amend the Nebraska Constitution to allow medical cannabis. The resolution language says the rules and regulations of a medical marijuana program would be set by the Legislature.
Dr. Thomas Williams, Nebraska’s chief medical officer, testified against the resolution. He predicted that most physicians would be unwilling to prescribe a drug without having any confidence in its purity, potency and potential side effects.
Dr. Monica Oldenburg, an anesthesiologist from Lincoln, said she formerly practiced in Colorado, where both medical and recreational marijuana are legal. She expressed concern about young children getting hold of highly concentrated marijuana containing 90 percent THC, the psychoactive compound in the plant.
“This is no longer Woodstock weed,” she said.
On the national level, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month rescinded an Obama-era policy that took a hands-off approach to federal drug enforcement in states with legal marijuana.
Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Ryan Post testified Thursday that federal law pre-empts state laws that legalize the drug. But Amy Miller, an attorney with the ACLU of Nebraska, argued the opposite, saying the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows states to pass their own marijuana statutes.
Autumn Sky Burns of Papillion said that when she was campaigning for City Council, she met many people who already are using cannabis as medicine to get off prescription painkillers.
“Why are we creating criminals when other states are seeing patients?” she asked.