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I will not be voting for LB 643. As I have stated before, I am not supporting state-level legalization of medical marijuana. While the committee amendment adopts a fairly narrow approach, I still maintain that efforts to change medical research and drug scheduling to help those who could benefit from cannabis substances should occur at the federal level.
LB 643 has been referred to as the Compassionate Care Act. If we were voting today on whether we have compassion for Nebraskans who suffer from epilepsy, cancer and other conditions, I hope that we would all vote green. If we were voting today on whether we feel that the federal laws on marijuana and the war on drugs have been counter-productive and have caused undue harm and suffering, then probably many of us would vote green. The public polling that shows strong support for legalizing medical marijuana shows a great deal of sympathy for these two points.
However, a vote on LB 643 is not just an expression of compassion or an expression of frustration with federal drug laws. A vote for LB 643 is a vote to authorize the Division of Public Health in the Department of Health and Human Services to create and regulate a medical marijuana industry in the state and to authorize it to recommend types of cannabis and dosages for Nebraska patients among other things. A vote for LB 643 is a vote for the details in AM 1254.
This bill does not allow families to go to Colorado and purchase Charlotte’s Web or order it online. If you found the story of Charlotte’s Web and Colorado medical refugees compelling and you are planning to vote for this bill because you want families with children with intractable epilepsy to have access to Charlotte’s Web in Nebraska, I urge you to read the details of the bill.
To be clear, my bill, LB 390, which we will debate later, also does not allow Nebraska parents to go to Colorado or to go online and purchase Charlotte’s Web. It simply creates a pilot project to provide research and compassionate care for as many patients as possible to get us through a time when we hope to see changes in federal cannabis rescheduling and in available FDA approved medications for epilepsy. It was never my intention for work on the CBD research project to be a stepping stone for state legalization of marijuana and I have made that clear from the beginning.
I have been passionate about legalizing hemp, which I hoped we could use not only as an agribusiness, but as a stepping stone for a CBD industry and CBD access in our state. I had hoped that Sen. Wallman’s bill last year could have gotten us well down that road. However, it was amended to a restrictive federally compliant version due to Judiciary Committee members’ concerns about remaining consistent with federal law and the Supremacy Clause.
The experience in Iowa from their straight CBD legalization bill now shows that this approach would not have been sufficient. The bill that passed there last year to decriminalize the possession of CBD for use for patients with intractable epilepsy does not allow those parents to go to Colorado or to go online to get Charlotte’s Web for their kids – much to the bitter disappointment of the parents who worked so hard to get that law passed. Neither the Federal Justice Department memo nor recent Congressional action to restrict funding for prosecution legalize the transport or sale of cannabis across state lines.
The policy pathway to allow parents to access CBD products and to open the research of medical uses of CBD and other cannabis components in this country is to pass Federal laws or regulations to reschedule CBD and/or other cannabis more broadly. I have been engaged in pushing for federal rescheduling or legalization of CBD as well. When I say that this problem needs to be solved at the federal level, I am not saying that to pass the buck. I am not saying that because I have no compassion for these families that are suffering. I say this because, based on my two years of studying this issue, it is what I have come to believe is true. Above and beyond the problems with getting supply across state lines, state-level solutions leave families vulnerable should they have to move, visit family members in another state, or should they find themselves in a federal facility or a hospital or other facility that must comply with federal rules.
I know it is frustrating to see our Congress so dysfunctional, but we cannot just throw up our hands and give up on ever having a functional national government again. There are some problems that need to be solved at the national level, so we have to all work to make sure that we can get things done in Congress. On this front, there is clear hope. Rep. Fortenberry and Rep. Ashford have both expressed support of a bill in Congress to reschedule CBD. That is a bi-partisan commitment of two out of our three Congressional delegates. Another hopeful sign at the federal level is that the FDA recently expedited open label access to a pharmaceutical version of CBD to allow broader compassionate use and study. I will continue to push for federal changes in the scheduling of CBD and for federal changes in our cannabis scheduling and medical research laws but I will not be voting for LB 643.