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Marijuana

A clerk reaches for a container of marijuana buds for a customer at Utopia Gardens, a medical marijuana dispensary in Detroit. 

A bill that would legalize medicinal cannabis has been sent to the Nebraska Legislature for debate next week. 

The Judiciary Committee sent the bill (LB110) to the full Legislature after working several months with the bill's introducer to craft a well-honed measure, said Chairman Steve Lathrop.

Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, who introduced LB110, got input from law enforcement, pharmacists, doctors, chambers of commerce and patients, she said. From those conversations, a lot of changes were made to the original bill.

The proposal has a list of specific conditions for which the drug can be prescribed and the requirement that a patient must see a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant with which they have a bona fide relationship for certification. The patient must have a physical exam and be assessed for alcohol and substance abuse and for a personal or family history of psychotic disorders.

The ability to grow plants at home has been eliminated, and smoking the drug would be illegal.

The bill would not require insurers to cover the cost of medical cannabis. And state agencies could not deny patients or caregivers their gun rights for possession of medicinal marijuana.

Wishart said she considers the amended version of the bill to be one of the best public health models for medicinal cannabis in the country. 

This is what happens, she said, when instead of groups just saying no, they come to give advice on how to make such a bill better. 

Still, both Lathrop and Wishart didn't give the bill a great chance of being passed this session. 

But it provides an opportunity to discuss a medicinal marijuana bill that has been well framed with hours of work by senators and legal staff, and extensive input from others outside the Legislature, they said. 

"If we're going to have medicinal cannabis, this one has been tightened up way more than what we may end up with if this is unsuccessful and then we end up with a petition initiative, put it on the ballot and then people vote for it," Lathrop said. 

Supporters of legalizing medicinal marijuana in Nebraska, led by Wishart and Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, have already begun gathering signatures on a petition initiative to go on the 2020 general election ballot. They have said they will have no trouble gathering more than enough signatures to put the proposal on the ballot and then vote to legalize medical marijuana. 

Wishart gave it a more than an 80% chance of passing at the polls.

She said she believes many of the families who have been working to get medical cannabis legalized in Nebraska would be most comfortable in passing the ballot initiative and the constitutional protection.

"Because they have lost hope in the Legislature and elected officials, I think they feel the most confident with the people making the decision and having a constitutional right," she said.

"To me," she said, "time is of the essence. I ran for office to be part of a legislative body that is going to lead and make the tough decisions of helping Nebraskans ... and so I really want to be one of the states where the Legislature does the right thing."

The bill came out of the Judiciary Committee on a 5-1 vote, with committee member Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth present but not voting. In addition, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks was absent and excused from the executive session at the time of the vote.

Sen. Julie Slama of Peru said she voted against sending the bill to the floor because it is classified as a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin and LSD, by the federal government. Schedule I drugs are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Judiciary Committee members who voted to send the bill to the full Legislature were Lathrop, Morfeld, and Sens. Ernie Chambers, Wendy DeBoer and Justin Wayne.

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

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

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

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