LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Supporters of medical marijuana will urge Nebraska lawmakers Friday to pass a bill they say would help ease suffering, but the state’s top law enforcement official plans to fight it.
Both sides will square off in a legislative hearing on the proposal, introduced for the first time in this year’s session. The bill by Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue would allow marijuana to treat epileptic seizures and symptoms of other diseases.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson opposes the bill, saying such policies should be decided on concrete medical evidence rather than anecdotes. Peterson said he’s concerned that people aren’t carefully considering the potential long-term health effects on youths, pointing to medical studies that suggest it leads to memory loss and other brain problems.
Garrett said the bill would help alleviate suffering for a narrowly tailored range of medical problems, and would allow the state to regulate its quality and potency. Doctors could prescribe the drug for epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, Huntington’s disease, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and chemotherapy-induced nausea. Garrett said he plans to expand the list to include post-traumatic stress disorder.
Garrett, a military contractor who said he has never smoked pot, opposes recreational marijuana but said conversations with constituents persuaded him to introduce the bill.
“At the end of the day, this is about being compassionate and helping people. We don’t outlaw prescription medications just because somebody might abuse them,” he said.
Garrett said he believes the bill will get voted out of committee, but its prospects in the full Legislature are unclear. If it passes, Nebraska would join 23 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing pot for medical use.
Maggie Graham, a 62-year-old retired teacher from Omaha, said marijuana would help her cope with diabetes, fibromyalgia, arthritis and high blood pressure. Graham traveled to Colorado after it was legalized and saw that marijuana helped ease her pain and regulate her blood-sugar levels.
“It gave me the energy I needed to get through the day,” she said.
Graham said the drug helped relieve her sister’s suffering after she was diagnosed with a rare cancer, and would have helped a brother who died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The debate comes as local and state officials in Nebraska try to overturn neighboring Colorado’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana. On Thursday, sheriffs from Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska sued the state of Colorado for decriminalizing pot. The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the voter-approved Colorado policy unconstitutional.
“As public officials, we have a responsibility to create a brighter future for young Nebraskans,” Peterson said. “The frustration I have is that a lot of Nebraskans may be taking this lightly.”
Peterson said he’s concerned that legalization bills send a message to teenagers that marijuana isn’t a big deal, and that medical marijuana could open the door to recreational pot.
“I understand that there are some very compelling, emotional stories,” he said. “But once medical marijuana gets in, it’s just the first step.”
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