At the end of May, President Donald Trump signed into law a “Right To Try” bill that allows terminally ill patients to use experimental drug treatments that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
While this change in the law is largely positive, it is still not enough for thousands of suffering Nebraskans and their families who would greatly benefit if medical cannabis was legalized in this state.
Presently, in order for patients to access cannabis under this new law, Forbes reports they would need to be at a point in their disease where death is a reasonable likelihood within a matter of months or a condition that would result in “significant irreversible morbidity that is likely to lead to severely premature death.”
It is unclear how this will allow Nebraskans access to cannabis in this state, or how the "Reefer Madness" crowd, namely Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson, would prosecute individuals seeking these life-saving treatments. Unfortunately, I suspect they would continue to show no mercy.
What is clear, however, is that we still live in a state where our elected officials are living in a self-imposed cloud of ignorance regarding medical cannabis. Just recently, during a Facebook Live interview with the Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. Ricketts reiterated his opposition to medical cannabis until it passes FDA approval.
Even ignoring the obvious hypocrisy that FDA approval did not seem very important to him when he tried to illegally smuggle execution drugs into the country, the arguments for medical cannabis are weighted severely against the side of ignorance -- even with our government actively trying to suppress research into this area for decades.
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But the secret is out to pharmacy companies that medical cannabis works; or, more importantly, it can continue to make them piles of money. This comes in the face of new research showing states that have legalized medical cannabis have seen significant drops in both prescription rates and complications including death related to opioid medications.
It appears that the FDA will vote this month whether to approve Epidiolex. This would be the first plant-derived cannabidiol medicine available by prescription to the public that is used to treat severe forms of epilepsy. The FDA has already approved synthetic versions of cannabis for other purposes. Sadly, medications such as Marinol pose harmful side effects that have even resulted in death.
Why are we allowing pharmacy companies to completely control this process from top to bottom when they’ve already done so much harm to America when they lied about the effects of their “safe and nonaddictive” opioid pill? Even if Epidiolex is rubber stamped and used in Nebraska, other conditions could be treated by medications that contain varying percentages of the chemicals found in different cannabis plant strains.
Every day, more patients plagued by seizures, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and countless other conditions are demonstrating that the benefits of medical cannabis are very real. They are showing us how great of a threat cannabis is to the opioid-dominated pharmacy industry -- and how clueless our politicians are in trying to force their flawed worldview on our sick and disabled.
More than half of states have already legalized medical cannabis; we know this is our inevitable future. It is time for Gov. Ricketts and our other elected officials to get on board or get out of the way.
Your fellow Nebraskans cannot wait on another clinical trial lasting years for a drug that can cost 10 times what it should and is ineffective when compared to whole-plant remedies. They cannot even wait another day, but that is the reality we are faced with.
Please consider contacting your elected state and federal officials to end the suffering. We don’t need the approval from the FDA or Big Pharma, just from politicians with a conscience that will allow them to do the right thing.
John Cartier is a lawyer who lives in Lincoln and led a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy while at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.