- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Medical marijuana will not become a legal treatment option for Nebraskans suffering from chronic illnesses this year.

Senators fell three votes short of ending a filibuster and advancing a bill Tuesday that would have allowed patients with conditions such as Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, opioid addictions and some types of cancer to obtain marijuana in pill, oil or liquid form. The measure faced stiff opposition from Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson.

Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue, who sponsored the bill and had introduced a similar measure last year, said the next step for Nebraska will be a petition process to put the issue on the general election ballot for voters to decide. Garrett called the vote upsetting, saying a fear of the unknown caused the Legislature to reject a chance to impact the lives of those suffering from seizures.

“It’s the smart thing to do. Power to the people,” he said. “We’re becoming the U.S. Congress, wringing our hands and saying, ‘Woe is me, woe is me. There’s so much I don’t know.’”

The bill’s failure to advance Tuesday leaves it dead for the session, which ends April 20.

Opponents said because marijuana has not been approved by the Federal Drug Administration it cannot be tested for safety and accurate dosages like other drugs.

Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell said the bill treats Nebraskans as “unregulated test subjects.”

“I don’t have confidence conducting a public policy experiment dealing with Nebraska citizens that is not in a controlled fashion,” he said.

Sen. Matt Williams said passing the bill would demonstrate a philosophical shift for the state, paving an easy pathway to recreational marijuana.

“Tonight we talk about where this state is going, where our standards are going to be and what we believe is important for our children,” Williams said.

The measure would have prohibited smoking and would not include chronic pain as a qualifying condition to receive the drug.

“This bill is about people who are sick, not about people who getting high. This is about ending suffering,” said Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln.

Coash urged senators to vote for the bill, saying that the Legislature will not have any oversight if the issue goes to the ballot through petition.

“When it’s on the ballot, hold on to your hats. You think Colorado’s got a problem?” he said.

Ricketts, Peterson and the state Department of Health and Human Services opposed the bill.

“We have a process here in this country for determining whether or not drugs are safe and effective, and in what doses, for what diseases. It’s called the FDA review process. And that’s the process we should follow for all drugs, marijuana not being an exception,” Ricketts said at a news conference Tuesday.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 other states and the District of Columbia.

___

The bill is LB643.


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