LINCOLN — The 2020 ballot looks to be the next stop for proponents of medicinal cannabis after a legalization proposal stalled in the Nebraska Legislature on Wednesday.
State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, who introduced Legislative Bill 110, said she doesn’t think she can find enough votes to end a filibuster against her bill. Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk halted debate on the measure after three hours, based on his policy for handling filibusters.
“It’s very doubtful that I will get 33 (votes),” Wishart said, “so we’re on to the ballot.”
Just outside the legislative chamber, Dominic Gillen of Bellevue reached the same conclusion.
He watched the debate while clutching the hand of his teenage son, Will, who has suffered multiple daily seizures since he was 4 months old. Gillen said the debate was difficult to stomach, as opponents quickly switched from talking about medicinal cannabis to raising concerns about recreational marijuana.
“What this body is doing is daring the people to put it on the ballot,” Gillen said. “It’s going to be up to the people to do it.”
Gillen and other members of Nebraska Families 4 Medical Cannabis back the initiative petition drive that Wishart launched last year along with Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln. The petition effort aims to put a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis before voters next year.
Earlier Wednesday, a handful of marijuana opponents held banners in the Capitol Rotunda to protest any legalization of cannabis in the state.
Margaret Wall of Lincoln said she and the other protesters were not part of any formal group. Rather, they are concerned about Nebraska following the path of other states in legalizing hemp, then medical marijuana and ultimately recreational marijuana.
Wall called herself a “pot refugee,” who moved to Nebraska because it is one of three states that do not allow any use of cannabis, the type of plant that includes both hemp and its intoxicating cousin, marijuana.
Opinions varied just as broadly inside the legislative chamber as senators took up a long-awaited debate on LB 110 Wednesday evening. The bill would allow Nebraskans with certain medical conditions to use cannabis for treatment.
The conditions would have to be among those listed in the bill and be certified every 90 days by medical professionals. Among those conditions is severe or chronic pain lasting longer than three months that is not adequately managed by non-opioid medications; post-traumatic stress disorder, where at least one other treatment failed; and terminal illnesses in which a patient had less than a year to live.
The bill also would create a system to regulate the production and distribution of cannabis to those patients.
An amendment adopted by the Judiciary Committee proposes tighter regulations than the original bill. It would not allow people to grow their own plants or smoke cannabis and would limit the amount of cannabis allowed to patients.
Morfeld said LB 110 represented the last opportunity for lawmakers to pass a “measured and reasonable” medical marijuana bill, while Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington compared medicinal cannabis to natural remedies like ginger root for stomach upset or turmeric for inflammation.
On the other side, Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln argued that Nebraska should not pass a law conflicting with federal marijuana laws. Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln said scientists, not legislators, should be the ones approving medicines. Several opponents raised concerns about the effects of marijuana on individuals and society.