Nebraska’s conservatives are expected to again reject measures that would allow highly regulated use of medical marijuana. This time though, their opposition to the bill could pave the way for ballot initiatives with barely any controls.
Nebraska wouldn’t be the first conservative state with surprisingly easy access to cannabis as a result of the unwillingness of red-state lawmakers to back medical marijuana bills.
This happened last year in Oklahoma, where doctors can now prescribe marijuana for any condition. Idaho, Wyoming and Mississippi have also rejected tightly controlled medical marijuana bills and could soon face ballot initiatives.
Lawmakers continue to shut down medical cannabis measures
Nebraska legislators have blocked three medical marijuana bills since 2010. They failed to approve programs that restricted the amount of the drug’s active ingredient and those that were limited to only creams and oils but banned smoking, whilst neighboring states have passed bills ranging from very limited access to legalization of recreational cannabis.
Marijuana proponents in Nebraska tried a different approach this year and indicated that they would place a measure with virtually no restrictions on the ballot if legislators wouldn’t back a better regulated bill. The current proposal includes the requirement to get a state-issued registry card, limits the potency of the drug, and allows patients to use it only for some medical conditions and to have no more that 8 ounces of marijuana in their home.
It is very likely that Nebraska voters would back such a ballot measure, judging from the experience in other states.
Nebraska state Sen. Anna Wishart, who sponsored the bill, said she’s trying to get skeptical legislators on board, but estimates her measure has less than a 30 percent chance of passing.
Opponents, such as Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, are washing their hands of the issue, even if it means a less regulated marijuana market could emerge.
“It’s not my job to make a decision that I think compromises public safety in the state just because of the threat of a ballot initiative,” said state Sen. Matt Williams, a leading opponent of the bill.
State Sen. Curt Friesen has reservations about legalizing a drug the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved.
“We’re not qualified to do that,” Friesen said. “If the people want to vote to bring in medical marijuana or recreational marijuana, then we’ll deal with that.”
The draft ballot measure would allow patients to use and grow an “adequate” supply of marijuana if a doctor prescribes it, with no limitations on qualifying conditions. It would only ban smoking cannabis in public places.
More restrictions could be introduced after the vote, but such a proposal was dropped after facing protests in Oklahoma.
Shelley Gillen, whose 17-year-old son, Will, suffers from debilitating seizures, said she’s hoping for some resolution soon.
“In the long run, having it go to the ballot would probably be more beneficial to more people who are ill,” she said.
In Montana, the threat of a ballot initiative has led legislators to announce a study into the effects of marijuana legalization.
Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that helped lead successful ballot campaigns in five states, said he would rather see state legislatures take action before costly ballot campaigns are necessary.
“We’re not in the business of forcing policies on electorates that don’t want them,” he said. “Our purpose is to step in when voters are being ignored.”