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Nebraska legislators halt medical marijuana bill

As LB474 fails to advance, supporters plan to collect signatures for ballot initiative.
Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 4:06 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska legislators on Wednesday voted to end the filibuster for LB474, a bill that would legalize medical cannabis.

Thirty-three votes are required to end a filibuster, but the vote was 31, so the bill fails to advance.

Supporters said they’re now setting their sights on spending another summer collecting signatures to get an initiative on the ballot for November 2022.

Nebraska is one of three states with no medical marijuana laws on the books. Gov. Pete Ricketts opposes the legislation, and typically legislators follow his lead.

A group of supporters was lined up outside the legislative chambers, hoping to get the attention of senators. Two Nebraska mothers said they would stay as long as it takes.

Crista Eggers of Gretna, whose son, Colton, has uncontrollable epileptic seizures, held a poster that stated, “How would you vote if he was your child?”

Nicole Hochstein of Papillion said her son Jayen also suffers from seizures. She said she believes they can be relieved by medical cannabis, allowing her to ween her son off prescription drugs.

“Medication is not working for my son and it’s not working for Colton, either,” she said. “We need options. It’s working in other states.”

State Sen. Terrell McKenney of Omaha supports the measure, saying it’s time to end the “war on drugs.”

“This is a step to end the disproportionate rates of arrests and convictions of people who look like me,” he said.

Last year, supporters gathered enough signatures to move the ballot measure forward, only to be thwarted by a last-minute lawsuit filed by Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner. The state Supreme Court said the initiative was unconstitutional.

State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk: “It won’t be a complicated question for voters. It will be: ‘Shall marijuana be legal?’ And everyone will vote for it — and we are going to have recreational marijuana.”

Legislators in favor of the bill said that if the Legislature didn’t do something, another petition drive was around the corner. And there will be no guardrails for that.

State Sen. Anna Wishart of Kearney said: “People are already doing this, colleagues. They are using cannabis illegally. ... Everywhere you go — north, south, east, west — it’s legal for medical purposes. Yet, in Nebraska, we treat these people like they’re criminals. That’s what we’re going to choose today.”

Many of the legislators said the issue isn’t about compassion — it’s about federal law, which still classifies marijuana in the same category as heroin and LSD. Other lawmakers pointed out that 47 states have medical cannabis laws.

State Sen. Mike Hilgers blamed the federal government. “It should enforce the law,” he said.

State Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln said: “There are so many ways to use this non-medically.”

State Sen. John Lowe of Kearney said: “When it comes to medical marijuana use, we have a long way to go before it’s approved by the (Federal Drug Administration). Until that happens, there’s no way I will support this bill.”

Eggers said she hoped the naysayers would reconsider.

“That’s how we keep going — the hope that these conversations make a difference,” she said. “It’s hard not to look at these pictures and not have empathy.

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