LINCOLN — The 33-year-old Army veteran from Omaha said Wednesday that he survived two bomb blasts while serving in the Iraq War.
After he got back and tried to adjust to civilian life, Tim Locklear said his wife and children had to endure his emotional explosions.
In wrenching testimony before the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, Locklear blamed the prescription narcotics he was given by doctors. On occasions when he’s been in states where medical marijuana is legal, he said the drug has been more effective in alleviating both his emotional and physical pain.
“That’s not me, yelling at my beautiful daughters and screaming,” Locklear said Wednesday as he voiced support for a bill what would add Nebraska to the list of 28 states with a comprehensive medical marijuana program.
An official with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office joined the state’s top doctor to oppose Legislative Bill 622. Also speaking against the bill were high-ranking law enforcement authorities.
“We are generally opposed to any legislation that would legalize marijuana,” Col. Brad Rice, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, told a crowded hearing room at the State Capitol.
Given that five of the eight members of the Judiciary Committee have co-sponsored the bill, it appears that the fight over medical marijuana will take place on the floor. A key senator who successfully filibustered a similar bill last year has said he remains opposed to medical marijuana. Gov. Pete Ricketts also stood against last year’s bill.
The Medical Cannabis Act would authorize a limited number of manufacturers and distribution centers to provide the drug for those suffering from 19 different illnesses or conditions, including opioid addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or “any other illness for which medical cannabis provides relief as determined by the participating health care practitioner.”
State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln said her proposal would allow patients to take medical marijuana in pills, oils, liquids, lotions or through vaporizers. It would not allow patients to smoke the drug or grow the plants.
Medical marijuana would be paid for out of pocket rather than through Medicaid or private health insurance. The bill calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to regulate and administer the program.
A fiscal analysis of the bill estimated that the program would result in state expenditures of $1.4 million per year while generating revenues of about $560,000. The net expense would almost certainly doom the measure in a year when lawmakers are faced with huge declines in state revenues.
Wishart, who prioritized the bill, has proposed an amendment that she said would make the medical cannabis program revenue-neutral. An updated economic analysis of the amendment has not yet been completed.
Among those who testified in support of the bill were another military veteran, who suffers from debilitating pain and PTSD; the mother of a child with severe seizure disorder; and a 61-year-old former business executive with rheumatoid arthritis.
Several proponents pointed to research showing that abuse of prescription opioid drugs declined in some of the 28 states that have legalized medical cannabis. They also said while there has not been a documented case of marijuana overdose resulting in death, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 183,000 Americans died of prescription painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2015.
Retired physician Alan Worth of Lincoln said he suffers from multiple sclerosis, which causes painful muscle spasms and cramps that make sleeping very difficult. When he’s been in legal marijuana states, he said cannabis extract helped without noticeable side effects.
“So I’d ask you why would you deny me access to a medicine that reduces my suffering,” he asked. “Why is the remedy 500 miles west of here and not in Lincoln?”
Amy Swearer is a former University of Nebraska-Lincoln soccer player who said she was prescribed narcotics and amphetamines for a head injury related to her sport. She told the committee that she now lives in Washington, where medical marijuana is legal.
“We are arbitrarily depriving citizens from a basic form of natural liberty — the right to make medical decisions in their best interests,” she said.
Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner said he is concerned that opening the door to medical marijuana will lead to a push for recreational marijuana in a few years. Chief Medical Officer Thomas Williams argued that far more scientific research needs to be done on medical marijuana before he would be willing to call the drug safe and effective for patients.
Assistant Attorney General David Lopez said any attempt by Nebraska to promote, license or tax marijuana products for medicinal purposes would be “pre-empted” under federal law.
“Our fundamental objection to his legislation is simple: Marijuana remains outright illegal ... under the federal Controlled Substances Act,” he said.
However, Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, a committee member who supports legalizing medical marijuana, pointed out that since 2014, Congress has directed the Justice Department not to interfere with states that enact medicinal cannabis programs. That federal resolution, however, is set to expire in April.
Some advocates said if lawmakers fail to act this session, they will undertake petition drives to put cannabis on the ballot. One such petition submitted with the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana for any use and another would decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of the drug.