A bill that would have legalized medical cannabis was defeated last week. LB 643 was sponsored by Sen. Tommy Garrett with an amendment from Senator Howard and made his priority both last year and this year. The bill was filibustered on the second round of consideration and failed to get the required 33 votes needed to end the extended debate. The measure will not be considered again this session. Sen. Garrett is not sure if he will bring it back next year.
Under LB 643 as amended, it still only allowed medical cannabis in a pill, oil or liquid form and smoking medical cannabis is still strictly prohibited. The intent of medical cannabis is to provide relief for those who are suffering and who have not been helped by conventional medicine.
The range of qualifying conditions is limited. For example, if a patient’s qualifying condition is cancer, they must exhibit severe chronic pain, severe nausea and wasting, known as cachexia, in order to be a candidate to participate under the Medical Cannabis Act. Other examples of conditions include, ALS, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease and only a medical provider can certify a qualifying condition.
As amended, LB 643 requires the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to create a patient registry. Patients must apply for enrollment by providing proof of a qualifying medical condition from a medical doctor along with proof of informed consent and signed disclosures regarding liability. For patients with physical or developmental disabilities who are unable to self-administer, registered caregivers are allowed. These caregivers would also go through a registry process with the DHHS. They must be at least 21 years of age and pass a criminal background check. All data collected on patients are considered medical records and therefore HIPAA protected.
Manufacturing and dispensing of medical cannabis will be highly regulated. Manufacturers must apply and be registered through the DHHS. One manufacturer is allowed per congressional district and each manufacturer may only operate one location. Products would be sent to a third party lab contracted by the manufacturer to test the product for labeled content and any contamination. The product would then be sent to a licensed dispensary that would not be affiliated with the manufacturer.
Sen. Garrett has insisted he was trying to be an advocate for families, children and veterans that wanted the opportunity to have the treatment they thought was right for them. He believed the majority of Nebraskans think the bill is a good idea. Sen. Sara Howard said it’s just there to alleviate human suffering.
Opponents were firm in their position that marijuana-derived medicines should go through the same federal approval process as other pharmaceutical drugs. Senator Chambers when asked responded that as far as he knew the Legislature had never in his memory approved a specific drug for use by people. Others opponents feared that a push for recreational marijuana wouldn’t be far behind if they voted to allow the drug to be used as a medicine. Attorney General Doug Peterson, Gov. Pete Ricketts and the Nebraska Medical Association were among those also opposed.
Last year, Senator Sue Crawford, was successful in getting her bill, LB390 passed that required the University of Nebraska Medical Center to create the Medical Cannabidiol Pilot Study on the efficacy of cannabidiol to treat patients with intractable seizures and treatment resistant seizures. The study is to include at least two neurologists, one of which is to be a pediatric neurologist. Sen Crawford, has indicated that UNMC has recently received the permits needed for their drug testing trials that will be conducted at UNMC regarding the effects of these drugs on patients. We should see results from this by next year.
To me, LB 643 is beyond the scope and ability of what the Legislature should be doing. We are not qualified to determine the quality, safety or effectiveness of a product that would be given to adults and children and I could not support approval of a product that has not passed the channels of approval all other drugs must go through.