Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, who has championed medical cannabis legalization in the Legislature, introduced a constitutional amendment resolution Thursday to allow voters to decide the issue this year.
Wishart said Nebraskans deserve an opportunity to vote on establishing protections for patients who would use medical cannabis.
"Tens of thousands of Nebraskans are needlessly suffering because they don't have access to medical cannabis, including veterans, children and the terminally ill," Wishart said.
Nebraska leaders have failed to act, she said, and provide patients and doctors freedom to make decisions without fear.
"I'm confident that if on the ballot, Nebraskans will support legalizing a medical cannabis system in our state," she said.
The resolution (LR293CA) would provide a right to use or consume medical cannabis subject to laws, rules and regulations, developed by the Legislature, to make use safe and sustainable.
"Nebraskans who find that cannabis eases their pain and suffering should not be forced across state lines or treated like criminals," she said. "I believe that medical cannabis is going to be a reality for Nebraska one day."
Brenda Potratz of Lincoln said in a news release that until someone personally experiences chronic pain or has a disease that doesn't respond to conventional medication, it is easy to ignore the urgent need to legalize medical cannabis.
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"Those of us who wake up to that reality each day don't have the luxury of disregarding our own pain," she said. "We shouldn't be forced to move away from Nebraska or look into remedies offered by criminal elements."
Looking at the problems from painkiller overdoses and abuse, such as from opioids, it seems better to offer safe, natural, legal therapy to Nebraskans if at all possible, she said.
This month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that took a hands-off approach to marijuana in states where it was legal. Sessions said federal prosecutors can decide whether to crack down on marijuana businesses.
Wishart said medical cannabis legalized by states is not in jeopardy the way recreational marijuana would be. This resolution would allow for a vote on a medical cannabis system.
"I think this is an exercise in states' rights," she said.
Forty-six states — including Sessions’ home state of Alabama — have legalized some form of medical marijuana in recent years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A proposed constitutional amendment requires 30 votes in the Nebraska Legislature to place it on a general election ballot. If it passes, it would not be subject to veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Wishart has another medical cannabis bill (LB622) in play, which legalizes medical cannabis and details how the systems would operate in the state. It was co-sponsored by nine other senators.
That proposal reached first-round consideration last session, but debate stopped after two hours. Wishart would have to come up with 33 votes to break a filibuster on the bill in order for it to be put back on the agenda for more debate.
That bill would be subject to veto by the governor if it passed.
Her preference, she said, would be to have LB622 go forward.
"But I wanted to give (senators) another option to let the people have a say," she said.
If others outside the Legislature succeed in a potential petition drive to put legalizing marijuana to a vote, it might not have the safeguards the Legislature could put in place with a bill.
Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers was one who spoke against LB622 during debate last session. He would probably oppose the resolution, too, he said.
"I don't think the Legislature is the place to be making these kinds of decisions on any kind of drug, whether it's medical marijuana or anything else," Hilgers said Thursday.
He's never heard of any precedent for having people vote on use of any medication or medical treatment, he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a process in place for clinical studies on efficacy and how different drugs interact with other drugs, Hilgers said.
The FDA has continued to classify marijuana as a Class I drug, having high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.
But it has approved two drugs containing a synthetic version of a substance that is present in the marijuana plant and one other drug containing a synthetic substance that acts similarly to compounds from marijuana but is not present in marijuana.
The FDA has said that although it has not approved any drug product containing or derived from botanical marijuana, it is aware there is considerable interest in its use to attempt to treat such medical conditions as glaucoma, AIDS wasting syndrome, neuropathic pain, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and certain seizure disorders.