Advocates and opponents discuss medical marijuana bill

Sen. Tommy Garrett discusses his bill. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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January 30, 2015 - 4:51pm

Advocates of medical marijuana gathered at the Capitol Friday to support legislation to legalize it, and debate continued on a bill to raise the fees charged for marriage licenses.

The bill to legalize medical marijuana was introduced by Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue. Garrett said he has a personal reason for interest in the subject. He said when his father-in-law was dying nearly 40 years ago from pancreatic cancer, he was getting violently ill with the effects of chemotherapy. "The doctor recommended that if he could find some marijuana that it would alleviate the effects of the chemotherapy," Garrett said. "My sister-in-law had to go out and illegally acquire marijuana for him. It did precisely what the doctor told him. That was 40 years ago almost. And it’s unconscionable to me that to this day marijuana is still illegal. We know there’s medical benefits."

Dominic Gillen of Bellevue was among those who spoke in favor of the bill at a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda. Gillen said his son Will suffers from a severe form of epilepsy and could benefit from medical marijuana. He said Will had seizure Thursday night that landed him in the hospital, and upset the other children in the family.

"I had to console them for an hour and a half last night because they’re distraught over the fact that he’s had another seizure where his face is bloody and he’s in the emergency room," Gillen said. And he said lawmakers have the ability to distinguish between medical and recreational use of marijuana. "This isn’t about getting high. This is about compassion for kids, and this is about compassion for other people in this state who could benefit from this," he said.

Allison Holmes, a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said marijuana helps her mother’s multiple sclerosis symptoms, but Nebraska’s prohibition gets in the way. "She decided to take a trip to Colorado where she could legally purchase and use her medicine. The results were immediate: Cannabis provided instant relief to all the muscles and nerves throughout her body and alleviated the pain brought on by MS symptoms. Today she is contemplating a move to Colorado in order to legally obtain the most effective medication she’s ever tried," Holmes said.

"The laws in Nebraska deem her a criminal if she attempted to bring any home with her. And the potential consequences are not worth the risk to herself or her family," she added.

Following the press conference, Susie Dugan of the group Drug Watch International said while she has compassion for people’s problems, legalizing medical marijuana leads to abuse. "The sad thing is, this is how it has started in every other state. We have watched the marijuana lobby go across the country and you know, they keep saying it’s just a small percent who would abuse it. But in those states that have medical marijuana, 90 percent of those people who are using it are under age 35 and not terminally or seriously ill," she said.

And Dugan said she’s worried about the effects on young people. "Our biggest concern is that as marijuana becomes more and more available, that kids start thinking that there’s nothing wrong with it," she said. "You talk to anybody who has had a kid in trouble with drugs that did not start with alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, and it’s virtually nil."

Late Friday afternoon, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson released a statement saying some states have approved medical marijuana without requiring any valid medical criteria. Peterson said requiring approval by the Federal Food and Drug Administration is the most appropriate way to proceed if there is medical evidence to support the use of cannabis for treatment.

Garrett’s bill, LB643, has been referred to the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which will hold a public hearing on it. That hearing has not yet been scheduled.

And in legislative debate Friday, senators continued to consider a bill to raise marriage license fees from $15 to $50.

Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell, sponsor of the bill, says the increase is needed to cover counties’s costs in issuing licenses, and fees have not changed since 1995.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers opposes the increase, saying people should not have to pay for a license the state requires them to get in order to obtain certain benefits.

Chambers is filibustering against the bill, in part, he says, to show new senators his ability to fight what he considers bad legislation. The Legislature’s informal rule allows a cumulative eight hours before a motion can be made to cut off debate and take a vote. That eight hour limit is expected to be reached late Monday morning



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