- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Four Nebraska senators rallied behind a bill Friday that would legalize medical marijuana, even as the attorney general continues to fight the drug’s proliferation.

The sponsors of the Cannabis Compassion and Care Act said family members who suffered from chronic illnesses have convinced them to support the bill. And Nebraska residents who face chronic diseases spoke at the news conference in support of the bill, saying it can improve the quality of life for sufferers of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and the side effects of chemotherapy treatment.

This bill, which hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing, joins other marijuana-related measures this session, including one providing for a pilot study to explore the effects of using cannabis oil to treat seizures and another to reclassify the possession of edibles.

All of this comes on the heels of Nebraska and Oklahoma asking the U.S. Supreme Court last month to overturn neighboring Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana. Attorney General Doug Peterson said this week he’ll go forward with the lawsuit originally brought by his predecessor, calling marijuana a major risk for Nebraska youth.

Medical marijuana has been legalized in some form in 23 states and the District of Columbia. The FDA has not released an opinion on medicinal marijuana.

Forty years ago, Sen. Tommy Garrett’s father-in-law passed away from pancreatic cancer. Even back then, the Omaha lawmaker said, the doctor had said would alleviate the effects of chemotherapy. Garrett’s sister-in-law bought some illegally, and the drug worked exactly as predicted.

“It’s unconscionable to me that to this day marijuana is still illegal,” Garrett said. “We know there’s medical benefits. Family members are being forced to do illegal activities to use marijuana for medical benefits.”

Valley resident Shari Lawlor’s 22-year-old daughter, Brooke, has suffered from epilepsy since she was 15 months old. Every day Brooke, who is on Medicaid, ingests 16 to 20 pills and wears a helmet or stays in a wheelchair to protect her body from severe seizures, Lawlor said.

Lawlor went to Colorado, where she met a young girl who used medical marijuana for her seizures, which Lawlor said decreased from 300 a week to one or two a month.

“There’s always those lowlifes who will abuse anything and unfortunately that’s what’s going to drag this down,” Lawlor said. “It’s just very unfortunate for all those (with) diseases that can benefit from this.”

But Peterson said the FDA should be regulating drugs, not states.

“The wrong process is to run it through the Legislature, through sympathetic stories,” Peterson said, adding, “if we rush into this without doing some serious evaluation of harms cost, there’s no way to turn back.”

Peterson said the industry in Colorado is driving a multimillion-dollar industry to convince Americans that marijuana is harmless and legalization in some form or another is inevitable. He also believes increasing marijuana potency levels have created problems for law enforcement, schools and the mental health system.

“I didn’t anticipate in a lot of ways that we would be the lone voice of caution,” he said. “Because I don’t hear anyone else out there telling this kind of medical information, this type of potency information.”

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The bill is LB643.


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