Legislators debated the bill for two hours without voting and are unlikely to return to the issue this year unless supporters prove they have the 33 votes necessary to end a filibuster. Senators who oppose the measure should work on making it better because they may be running out of time to regulate medical marijuana, said Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln.
Voters are now circulating two petitions for cannabis-related initiatives that could appear on the 2018 ballot. One would amend the state’s constitution to give residents the right to use, buy and sell marijuana and prohibit any laws restricting it, while the other would decriminalize possession of one ounce or less of the drug.
“This is going to come, and it’s not going to come in the form of a bill we can repeal or amend,” Morfeld said.
The bill would allow people with conditions including cancer, glaucoma and epilepsy to use marijuana in liquid, pill, vapor or topical cream form. It would not permit smoking or consuming edible marijuana, and it would make the state Department of Health and Human Services responsible for enrolling patients and regulating manufacturers and dispensaries.
Access to medical marijuana won’t turn people into “weed smokers,” but it will help cancer patients, said Sen. Joni Craighead of Omaha. Her husband, Mike, died 10 years ago from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange as a soldier in Vietnam.
“If I would have had an opportunity to get medical cannabis for him, I think the quality of his life at the end would have been much better,” she said.
The Food and Drug Administration needs to do more research and approve the drug before states can legalize it, said Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia now allow marijuana for medical purposes, and those state laws are a mix of voter propositions and legislative bills.
“We are not equipped to make this medical decision,” Hilgers said.
Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, who sponsored and prioritized the bill, said cannabis is far safer than the opioid painkillers doctors now prescribe.
Missing proof that marijuana can lead to death doesn’t prove the drug is safe, said Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell. He said lawmakers must learn from the history of thalidomide, a German drug prescribed for morning sickness that resulted in serious, often fatal, birth defects.
“We have to be careful about making claims that something is safe without clinical testing,” Kuehn said. “You can drink yourself to death, and your cause of death might be listed as cirrhosis of the liver or a car accident.”