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Both sides speak on legalization of medical marijuana

LINCOLN–Emotions ran high at the state capitol Jan. 25 as supporters hoped to have Nebraska join the growing list of U.S. states with legalized medicinal marijuana, and opponents argued against the drug’s potential side effects.

A handful of proponents for the bill entered the Warren Legislative Chamber wearing pot leaf T-shirts. Others held signs reading “We are patients, not criminals.” A wagon of pharmaceutical drug containers was left outside the chamber.

One supporter was Shelley Gillen of Bellevue, who spoke on behalf of her son who suffers from multiple types of seizures on a daily basis. She noted marijuana’s relieving effects on her son’s seizures and countered an argument that legalizing medicinal marijuana would lead users to harder drugs. Most of the prescription drugs her son takes regularly are gateway drugs themselves, she said.

“Thanks to the FDA, my son is already a drug addict, and not by choice, and he has been since he was an infant,” she said.

She asked that legislators see the issue from her point of view before making their decision.

“You may one day find yourself in our situation. Please open your hearts and minds and become educated,” she said. “And act quickly, because precious lives are at stake.”

On the other side were opponents like Linda Thorson of Omaha, whose son started smoking marijuana when he was 16, became disinterested in his schoolwork and athletics and eventually moved on to harder drugs. He has since been diagnosed with schizophrenia and lives with Thorson and her husband.

“He suffers memory loss. He has permanent brain damage. He’s easily distracted. He has a short attention span … Marijuana, in my mind, was the likely contributing factor that destroyed my son’s mind,” she said.

Legislative Bill 110, introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, is the 2019 legislative session’s attempt to legalize medical cannabis, following a string of similar bills in recent years. Four prior bills have failed after filibusters. In 1996, California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis, and it’s now legal in 33 states.

“Not one state that has legalized cannabis for medical purposes have sought to reverse that,” Wishart said. “In fact, many have expanded it.”

Former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne was also at the Capitol on Friday, speaking before the hearing against LB 110. He acknowledged the dangers of the drug and recounted experiences he had during his coaching days with players who got in trouble for using marijuana, even under heavy pressure to perform well on the field.

“The idea marijuana is not addictive is a myth,” he said. “It’s not dangerous, is a myth.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts has also been in opposition of past bills that have called for legalization of medicinal marijuana. In 2015, he wrote an anti-marijuana message titled “Marijuana is a Dangerous Drug,” expressing his stance that marijuana should be tested by FDA before states legalize the drug for medicinal use themselves.

“While parents and advocates have made their case at the state level here in Nebraska and elsewhere for marijuana’s medical use, our country already has a process in place through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine whether a drug constitutes safe and effective medical treatment,” Ricketts’ message read.

Following the hearing Friday was a fundraiser held by Wishart and other advocates for medical marijuana legalization. Funds will go to launching a petition to have LB 110 on ballots if the legislation were to fail in the Unicameral.

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