The Nebraska legislature is taking up a bill to legalize medical marijuana this week—the latest in a string of conservative states to consider the reform move recently.
Sen. Anna Wishart (D), sponsor of the legislation, announced that it will “be debated by the full legislature” on Wednesday.
Just heard, my bill to legalize medical cannabis, LB 474 will be debated by the full legislature on Wednesday, May 12 at 9am! Carrying the voices of Colton and all the patients who would benefit from this plant based medicine with me. 💚 pic.twitter.com/S7gZRyaJ45
— Senator Anna Wishart (@NebraskaAnna) May 7, 2021
The measure would allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to purchase and possess up to two and a half ounces of cannabis from licensed dispensaries. It would not allow patients to smoke marijuana, however.
While the bill originally would have generally allowed patients to access marijuana for any condition that the plant may treat, it was revised in committee to include a specific list of 17 qualifying conditions, including cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.
Passing in the GOP-controlled unicameral body is expected to be challenging, as lawmakers will likely have to overcome a filibuster with at least 33 votes for cloture. If they accomplish that, a vote could then take place to approve the reform bill itself.
But while the legislation as currently amended might prove to be difficult, it’s possible that legislators could accept additional changes and reach a compromise that makes the proposal more palatable to reform opponents.
“I think that proponents for medical cannabis are willing to see compromises on the bill if that means getting something done,” Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager for the national Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.
Wishart and Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) have been consistent champions of cannabis reform, and while this bill is a fairly limited proposal to legalize medical marijuana, the pair announced in December that they’re working to put the question of legalization for adult use before voters in 2022.
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Their campaign—Nebraskans for Medical Cannabis—is separately collecting signatures for a medical cannabis legalization measure that they hope to place on the 2022 ballot as well.
The group qualified a measure to legalize medical marijuana for last year’s ballot. But the state Supreme Court shut it down following a single-subject challenge.
In the Judiciary hearing, Chairman Steve Lathrop (R) said that he voted in favor of the medical cannabis legalization bill partly because he feels it would be a better alternative compared to the measure that could be placed on the ballot.
If activists do collect enough signatures to qualify either the medical or recreational cannabis measure, they will still likely face a challenge at the polls, as midterms generally see lower turnout as compared to presidential election years.
That said, it’s possible that the continuing momentum for reform via the ballot could spur lawmakers to potentially pass medical cannabis legislation such as Wishart’s bill in the meantime.
Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) is an adamant opponent of marijuana reform, so it seems likely he would veto any medical cannabis bill that lawmakers sent to his desk. Overriding a gubernatorial veto would require 30 votes, meaning at least some members of his own party would have to move to reject the governor’s action.
Under last year’s blocked Nebraska medical cannabis initiative, physicians would have been able to recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, and those patients would then have been allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.
For what it’s worth, Nebraska’s attorney general said in an opinion in 2019 that efforts to legalize medical marijuana in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.