LINCOLN — A survey of likely voters late last year found a wide margin of support for legalizing medical cannabis in Nebraska.

State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln released the survey ahead of the Judiciary Committee's public hearing Thursday on her resolution to allow voters to decide whether the state should legalize marijuana as medicine. If lawmakers pass Legislative Resolution 293CA this session, a medical cannabis constitutional amendment would appear on the general election ballot in November.

A total of 77 percent of respondents said they would vote "yes" on a ballot question to allow medical cannabis and 22 percent said they would vote "no." The November survey, which was commissioned by the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, reported a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

A total of 58 percent of respondents identified themselves as Republicans, 29 percent as Democrats and 13 percent as independents. The opinion research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates in Los Angeles sampled a roughly similar number of people across Nebraska's three congressional districts.

"From my perspective, it was not a surprise," Wishart said. "I hear from Nebraskans every day on the issue of legalizing medical cannabis." 

If Wishart's resolution gets to the floor, it would need 30 votes to pass and would not be subject to a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts, who opposes legalizing medical marijuana.

Attempts by Nebraska lawmakers to pass legislation allowing medical cannabis in recent years have been unable to overcome a filibuster, which requires a minimum of 33 votes.

Wishart said she hopes that the survey results will convince her colleagues that their constituents should get the opportunity to vote on medical cannabis. But Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln said that when she ran for office, she made it very clear to people in her district that she opposes legalization.

"I firmly believe the Legislature is not equipped to make medical decisions," she said, explaining that she will vote against the resolution if it makes it to the floor.

Opponents of past medical marijuana proposals have said they can't support legalizing the drug for medical use without testing and approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Supporters of medical cannabis said the federal classification of the drug as a Schedule I controlled substance makes research very difficult to conduct.

The national marijuana landscape changed last month when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a 2013 Justice Department directive that took a hands-off approach to states that legalized marijuana both for medical and recreational use. The Obama-era guideline helped the marijuana industry to thrive in those states, even though the drug remains banned under federal law.

A total of 29 states allow broad access to medical cannabis, while 17 states allow it for limited uses. Laws in eight of nine states allowing recreational use of marijuana have been adopted through ballot initiatives. 

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