Advocates urge Nebraska lawmakers to pass medical pot bill

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Medical marijuana advocates packed two rooms at the Capitol Wednesday to support a bill that would allow the substance in Nebraska, but the measure faces stiff opposition from many in state government.

The measure sponsored by Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln would allow people with conditions including cancer, glaucoma and epilepsy to use marijuana in liquid, pill or vapor form. It does not permit smoking or consuming edible marijuana.

Wishart’s measure should advance easily out of the Judiciary Committee, as five of its eight members are signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. But it faces an uphill battle in the full Legislature, where Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg said he intends to filibuster the bill, which will require 33 of 49 senators to end debate and force a vote. Gov. Pete Ricketts also opposes medical marijuana and likely would veto the measure if it gets to him.

Alan Worth, a retired Lincoln physician who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005, said three medications doctors prescribed for his MS didn’t work or had side effects, but marijuana extract he was able to access in Colorado helped his condition. He urged the committee to advance the bill so doctors could prescribe the drug.

“By denying its legal status, you make some shop owner in Colorado the person responsible for prescribing it, and I don’t see how that’s right,” he said.

Amy Swearer, a former University of Nebraska student-athlete, said research convinced her marijuana is safer than the oxycodone and opiates she was prescribed for endometriosis and soccer injuries. She said supporting medical marijuana also fits into her beliefs as a conservative and a Protestant.

“I guarantee you that in the past few years I’ve been prescribed drugs more addictive and more dangerous,” she said.

Omaha resident Tim Locklear said marijuana and his service dog, Boris, help him deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder he brought back from a combat tour in Iraq. Barbiturates prescribed by his Veterans Affairs hospital so damaged his intestines that he can no longer eat a full meal, and his wife and six children like him better on marijuana than on prescription drugs, he said.

“I’m not here to make a case that you should legalize pot because I’m so broken, man, but you should do it because it’s the moral and ethical thing to do,” he said.

Even though Wishart’s bill would allow medical marijuana for medical use only, there is a “significant risk” medical marijuana could be used recreationally, Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent Bradley Rice said.

“Drugs have no place in Nebraska,” he said.

Marijuana is still illegal federally, though 27 states and the District of Columbia allow it for medical purposes and eight states permit recreational use. The U.S. Department of Justice under the Obama administration deferred to state marijuana laws, but the future of those laws is in question under new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an outspoken opponent of marijuana.

The Nebraska Attorney General’s office will oppose any medical marijuana legislation unless and until Congress modifies federal law on the drug, assistant attorney general Dave Lopez said.

Follow Julia Shumway on Twitter at http:///JMShumway

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