LINCOLN — Backers of a medical marijuana petition drive in Nebraska on Monday dismissed a recent attorney general’s opinion as “politically motivated” and “wrong.”

Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws took Attorney General Doug Peterson to task over a legal opinion that concluded that proposed state legislation allowing medical marijuana would be unconstitutional.

The opinion analyzed Legislative Bill 110, the Medical Cannabis Act, which sought to legalize medical marijuana in the state. The measure was debated during the legislative session earlier this year but stalled in the face of a filibuster. It is unlikely to be taken up again, as backers have shifted their focus to the petition drive.

The federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, defined as having a “high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use” and a lack of accepted safety for use ... under medical supervision.”

In the opinion, the attorney general cited a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Gonzales v. Raich. In that California case, the court ruled that Congress had the authority to prohibit the cultivation and use of marijuana despite the state medical marijuana law that allowed such activities.

Peterson argued that the federal drug law still preempts state legalization proposals, even though medical marijuana laws have multiplied among the states and federal officials have taken a hands-off approach to those laws.

“Nothing about the federal government’s relaxed view of its enforcement obligations under the (Controlled Substances Act) changes the fact that Congress intended the (act) to prohibit the type of legalization proposed by (LB 110),” he said.

But State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, who introduced LB 110 and is co-chair of the petition drive, said the attorney general’s opinion was based on a flawed interpretation of the Gonzales ruling. She said the decision did not bar states from enacting medical marijuana laws.

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“If the ruling preempted state medical marijuana laws, there would not be hundreds of legal medical cannabis businesses currently operating in California and elsewhere in the country,” she said.

In a statement, the petition group pointed to a more recent Supreme Court decision dealing with sports betting. In the case of Murphy v. NCAA, the court ruled last year that Congress could not dictate what states may do legislatively. The ruling allowed states to pass laws legalizing sports betting, as Iowa has done.

“The United States is a country of dual sovereignty, and state governments get to decide state law — not the federal government,” the group said, adding: “Nebraskans should recognize the Attorney General’s statement as one motivated by an anti-cannabis political agenda and unmoored from any sensible reading of recent Supreme Court case law.”

Suzanne Gage, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, declined to comment on the statement and said the opinion speaks for itself.

Medical marijuana supporters have focused on the petition drive after striking out with LB 110 and previous legislative proposals. The drive seeks to put a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis before voters during the November general election next year.

The attorney general’s opinion was issued in response to a request from State Sen. Andrew La Grone of Gretna, an opponent of medical marijuana legislation.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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