The attempt to legalize medical cannabis was defeated Tuesday night while at least 25 people with a vested interest in the bill watched from the balcony and Capitol Rotunda.

The bill (LB643), introduced and fought for by Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue, was filibustered on the second round of consideration and then went down when 33 votes to end the extended debate became out of reach.

Garrett said he thought he had the votes, but several people reneged and he got only 30.

All along, for Garrett, it was about the families, children, and veterans that appealed for the opportunity to be allowed to have the treatment they thought was right for them.

"We had an opportunity to help people," Garrett said.

People like Tonja Peterson-Wendt who stayed at the Capitol 10 hours Tuesday with her service dog Duke, hoping to watch the bill advance to final reading.

Her medical problems started in 2004, she said, with a car wreck. She continues to suffer from migraines with symptoms that mimic strokes and must use a wheelchair.

Peterson-Wendt said she wanted the opportunity to work again, or at the least be able to volunteer and help people, and live the best life she can.

After the vote, she said, she was numb.

Garrett said his only explanation for the defeat of the bill was that some senators were "stuck on stupid."

Opponents argued that the bill had been amended to the point it wasn't the same bill that was introduced and needed to go back to the Judiciary Committee for a new hearing. And they said the science needed to catch up to the drug before it could be approved for medical use.

Making public policy is not easy, but it cannot be emotional, said Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, who led the filibuster. In public policy, decisions should not be made for the few, but for the larger state.

Several senators who supported the bill said they believed that if the Legislature defeated the bill, it would be brought to voters through a ballot initiative. And the Legislature would lose control of its regulation.

"If this bill fails, it's on the ballot," said Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash. "And if it's on the ballot, hold on to your hat."

Senators adopted amendments to the bill before its ultimate defeat; one by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard would have tightly regulated the use of medical cannabis in the state, and another by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello would have allocated $2.4 million from the Nebraska Health Care Cash Fund for the bill's implementation.

The bill as amended would have allowed medical cannabis in pill, oil or liquid form, but no smoking of the drug. Only a medical provider could certify a patient's qualification for the medication.

Medical cannabis products would have had to be acquired, possessed and dispensed through compassion centers, one per congressional district, and registered by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Garrett said he believed the majority of Nebraskans believe it's a good idea.

He hopes it will be brought back as a ballot issue.

"Power to the people," he said. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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