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As my first year in the legislature heads into the final weeks of the session, and where some of the biggest issues are waiting, I am starting to see the pressure that is building and how it affects my colleagues. Some of the debates can get a little heated, and what I feel are minor issues can flare into major discussions. The following bills have generated a fair amount of mail from outside the district and some from within.
Two separate bills have been introduced and prioritized this session that would legalize medical marijuana. Both have an end result of treating people with illnesses that can’t be controlled with FDA approved drugs. One is very tightly controlled and would provide good measurable data, and the other would open the door for many more options and is not as well defined, because the end rules are not written until after we pass this bill.
LB 643, introduced by Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue, creates the Cannabis Compassion and Care Act. Dramatically amended by the Judiciary Committee, the bill gives detailed instructions on how manufacturers can operate and sets out restrictions for the use of medical marijuana in the state. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) would then be responsible for developing specific rules and regulations.
It allows medical cannabis to be taken only in liquid form, including oil, by pill or vapor. Any other method, including smoking, would have to be approved by DHHS. Patients would have to be certified to use medical marijuana, to show they have qualifying diagnoses made by a doctor, and whether a caretaker is needed to administer the medication. Certification would be required yearly.
Unless the caretaker is a parent or legal guardian, that person would have to be at least 21, administer the medication to only one patient unless additional patients live at the same residence, submit to a background check and file fingerprints.
Patients would have to register and pay an annual $200 fee to use medical marijuana. From registration information, DHHS would evaluate patient demographics, effective treatment options, and clinical and quality-of-life outcomes. The fee would be $50 for patients receiving Social Security disability or who are in the medical assistance program.
Illnesses or medical conditions the state would allow to be treated with medical marijuana would be limited, including seizures; cancer, if symptoms include severe or chronic pain, or nausea or severe vomiting, or severe weight loss; glaucoma; HIV or AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome; ALS; multiple sclerosis with severe or persistent muscle spasms; Crohn’s disease and terminal illnesses.
DHHS would be allowed to approve any additional delivery method or qualifying illness or condition. Two manufacturers would be allowed to have four distribution centers, which would be located geographically across the state. Local governments would be allowed to put zoning restrictions for distribution facilities. A five-member Medical Cannabis Board will advise DHHS on rules and regulations, medical cannabis policies and any changes to the law as needed.
At the lengthy hearing a number of people shared stories of loved ones with debilitating illnesses such as, Dravet Syndrome, epilepsy, PTSD, Huntington Disease, seizures, and other conditions that current medicines had no effect on. Many testifiers said they received recommendations from doctors and friends, including doing their own research on how marijuana use improved the quality of life for many people who had similar conditions. Most of the testifiers said their life changed dramatically and some were even pain-free after using marijuana.
The other bill, LB 390, introduced by Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue, would allow for a pilot study performed by the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) to explore the safety and effectiveness of using cannabidiol –hemp oil—to treat resistant seizures for about 50 young people.
Twenty-four other states have legalized marijuana in one form or another for specific illnesses.
Governor Ricketts believes the virtues of marijuana are still much debated. He has concerns about both pieces of legislation and that we should wait until there is FDA approval before enacting a state law.
I am willing to support LB390 but not LB643. If results from the UNMC study show promise we could consider expanding the program. Debate on LB 643 began last week and will resume this week.