State lawmakers in Nebraska are considering a new bill that would allow for the use of medical marijuana, which would make it the first heartland state to do so.
A traditionally red state, Nebraska joined Oklahoma in suing Colorado after the Rocky Mountain State approved adult-use marijuana in 2014. The two states argued that growers in Colorado were illegally selling marijuana in their states.
However, Nebraska now could potentially join the list of states where medical marijuana is allowed. Lawmakers currently are considering a bill from State Senator Anna Wishart called the Medical Cannabis Act, which would allow use of medical marijuana in certain cases.
Wishart, a freshman member of the senate who won election last November, represents the Lincoln area.
The bill passed out of committee in March and will now go to the Senate floor. Opposition is expected by members of the Senate. The head of the Nebraska State Patrol has already testified against the bill, as has a representative of the state attorney general’s office.
Goverbir Pete Ricketts also opposed a similar measure last year.
Still, Wishart told the Omaha World Herald she is “optimistic that members will listen to their constituents who are desperately asking them to legalize this form of treatment.”
Help For Patients
As with many states that have legalized medical marijuana, the Nebraska bill would allow those suffering from certain chronic or severe diseases and conditions to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription.
They include glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizures and severe and persistent muscle spasms. Those with cancer or a diagnosis of having less than a year to live who also experience chronic pain or nausea would also qualify.
Patients would need to submit all the required paperwork to the state along with a physician’s prescription. The program would be open only to Nebraska residents who enroll in a state registry. The program would be overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.
In a departure from many states, the Nebraska law would not allow patients to smoke marijuana. Instead, it would require use through pills, liquids, lotions or a vaporizer.
If approved, the program would begin July 1, 2018.
New Territory for Marijuana
However, the details of the bill, which mostly mirror those in other states, seems less relevant in the national picture than the political and geographical position of Nebraska.
More than half of American states have some form of legalized marijuana. But, despite polls showing support nationwide for medical marijuana, the legalization effort has, to date, skipped two large sections of the country: the midwest and the south.
Both are filled primarily with red states, and a recent poll show that Republicans and seniors are the two demographic groups that remain most opposed to legalized marijuana.
This map from Governing magazine offers a quick picture of the current state of affairs for legalized marijuana. While there are exceptions – North Dakota and Minnesota – the middle of the country from Texas to South Dakota has yet to approve any form of legalized marijuana, even for severe medical conditions.
Also, most of the South has yet to legalize medical marijuana. The exceptions are Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana. Nebraska could join those states as breaking new ground in a region where state leaders have been hesitant to follow the medical marijuana legalization trend.