LINCOLN — The tears of advocates and fears of opponents filled a legislative hearing Friday about legalizing medical cannabis.
On one side were people like Charles Birmley, who described himself as a Christian conservative, but who said supporting medical cannabis is the “right thing to do.”
He said he came to that belief after his wife of 24 years was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She constantly deals with numbness, tingling and pain in her arms and legs. Medical cannabis has been shown to help some people with MS.
“This legal bill is about offering hope to those who have tried conventional means to address their afflictions and are in need of different answers,” Birmley said of Legislative Bill 110.
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On the other side was Mary Hilton, a Lincoln mother who called the proposal “very dangerous legislation.” Hilton’s 19-year-old daughter suffers from seizures, which are only partly controlled by medication. She said her daughter still has about 30 or 40 small seizures every day.
But she said she wouldn’t want her daughter trying medical cannabis — and her daughter wouldn’t want to use it — unless there is proof its benefits outweigh its negatives.
“I see this as putting the sick and the suffering of our state in a giant medical experiment,” Hilton said. “It is not a silver bullet.”
LB 110 represents the latest attempt to legalize cannabis, also known as marijuana, for medical purposes in Nebraska.
State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, who introduced the bill, said she did so “on behalf of the countless Nebraskans” who have contacted her about legalizing medical cannabis.
Those people come from many different backgrounds and many different political persuasions, she said. But they share a concern about a suffering family member or friend or are themselves suffering from health problems that may be helped by medical cannabis.
Under LB 110, Nebraskans with certain medical conditions certified by a health care provider would be allowed to use cannabis. The bill would set up a registry for patients.
It also would create a system to regulate the production and distribution of cannabis to those patients.
“It is a very safe, regulated, humane medical cannabis system,” Wishart said.
Testimony on her proposal lasted well into the evening, with advocate after advocate telling their own emotional stories or the stories of those they love.
Supporters included a representative from the national Marijuana Policy Project. The group, based in Washington, D.C., has helped legalize medical cannabis in other states and has agreed to help a planned petition effort in Nebraska if LB 110 fails.
Opponents of LB 110 included a number of current and former state officials warning about the potential dangers of passing the bill.
Legendary Husker football coach Tom Osborne did not appear at the hearing but spoke out at a press conference earlier Friday. He said he had offered to speak because of his experience with players who used marijuana. Most, he said, ended up having to leave the team.
Osborne mentioned some advocates he had met outside the press conference, most of whom had a family member with health concerns. He said he has sympathy for those families but they did not change his mind.
“I think it is really important we look at the greater good,” he said, arguing that legalizing medical cannabis would make recreational use of the drug seem more acceptable to young people.
At the press conference, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley said the bill would legalize marijuana “under the guise of medicine,” harming Nebraska families and communities.
The Nebraska Medical Association took a neutral position on the bill.
Dr. John Massey, a pain specialist, said more research is coming out showing the conditions that benefit from medical cannabis and those that do not. But he said most doctors do not know enough about using cannabis in treatment and the physician group has concerns about the bill as introduced.