Lincoln, NE | On Tuesday, Nebraska lawmakers voted 27-12 in favor of a limited medical marijuana bill. The proposed bill would allow ailing Nebraskans access to the non-psychoactive cannabidiol in both liquid and pill form.
The bill, known as the “Cannabis Compassion and Care Act,” would allow for the use of marijuana by patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, and several other debilitating conditions. Senator Tommy Garrett, who introduced the original bill, has gained the support of fellow lawmakers after striking chronic pain as a qualifying condition and excluding the inhalation of marijuana as a delivery method.
For some, eliminating the instant relief delivered by smoking and vaporizing cannabis seem like a gaping hole in the new legislation, but the bill marks a giant leap forward from Nebraska’s recent lawsuit against Colorado for the state’s claimed responsibility in legal marijuana spilling into Nebraska.
However, the bill still has a long road ahead of it, including two more votes and a defiant governor’s signature. Still, Senator Garret remains optimistic.
“This is not about stoners getting high, this is about medicine and helping people.”
Nebraskan residents seem to agree. When the Cannabis Compassion and Care Act was heard in committee on March 9 of this year, one hundred similar people gave testimony of their own illnesses including Chron’s disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, and multipole sclerosis. All of these people are looking for a safer, healthier alternative to prescription medication. Garrett aims to deliver.
Oklahoma and Nebraska are calling for the United States Supreme Court to overrule Colorado’s voter approved Amendment 64, the initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in the state. The lawsuit was filed Thursday stating that the legalization amendment infringes the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, which establishes federal law as the winner should there ever be a conflict with state law.
Jon Bruning, Nebraska’s Attorney General is leading the brigade. In a press conference in Lincoln, Bruning explained reasoning behind the lawsuit,
“This contraband has been heavily trafficked into our state. While Colorado reaps millions from the sale of pot, Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost.”
The federal government does not have the resources to go after every case of state marijuana law violations, so the Cole Memorandum was drafted in compromise. The memorandum lists eight rules for states with legal marijuana, whether for medicinal or recreational use, must follow in order to avoid federal law enforcement. According the the Cole Memorandum, the federal government will allow states to enforce their own legalization laws as long as the states are able to demonstrate efforts to enforce the following criteria:
- Preventing minors from accessing cannabis
- Preventing cannabis sale revenue from reaching criminal cartels
- Preventing cannabis from reaching outside of the state in which it is legal
- Preventing cannabis sales from being used as a cover for other illegal activity
- Preventing gun violence related to marijuana sales
- Preventing driving under the influence of cannabis
- Preventing marijuana from being grown on public lands
- Preventing marijuana possession and use on federal property
Oklahoma and Nebraska Attorney Generals filed the suit because they feel Colorado is failing to uphold the third item of the agreement because cannabis is crossing state lines.
Colorado Attorney General, John Suthers, is not surprised by the lawsuit, as he has already fielded complaints from both neighboring states involved. Suthers released a statement exclaiming that Colorado will defend the voter approved amendment to the state constitution.
Colorado’s monthly marijuana sales tax report for August was released at the beginning of this month and indicated yet another month of growth. Marijuana purchases in August totaled more than $60 Million, but some of those purchases aren’t staying in Colorado. The issue has become frustrating for Nebraska cities bordering the Colorado state line.
In the small town of Sidney Nebraska, population 7,000, police are facing a 100% increase in marijuana arrests between 2013 and 2014. Sidney Police Chief BJ Wilkinson says that 50% of traffic stops result in a marijuana arrest. It’s not just affecting Sidney though, all of Cheyennne County has been afflicted by the abundance of legal marijuana just 10 miles away. “It has affected on the budget side just because on the jail side we’ve had an increase of people,” said Cheyenne County Sheriff, John Jensen. Cheyenne county saw just 15 marijuana related arrests in 2009. Those numbers surged to 60 arrests in 2013 and the trend is likely to continue upwards as access to the plant just became a whole lot easier.
Local law enforcement officers site jailing costs, public defenders, and police overtime as some of the biggest expenses that come as a result of this influx of marijuana. Authorities are looking for stiffer penalties to discourage residents from bringing cannabis back across state lines. “You know if you can smoke marijuana and walk out of court with 120 dollars fine and nothing else that may not be as much of an impact if you walk out of court with a 1,200 dollar fine,” said Sidney Police Chief BJ Wilkinson.
However, stronger penalties may not do enough to restrict residents from possessing and consuming a plant that is perfectly legal just a stone’s throw away in Colorado. Perhaps it’s time for law enforcement to consider ballot initiatives to decriminalize the drug like some major cities in Texas have done. Until then, it is unlikely that Nebraska residents will quit smoking or find a better place to access safe, regulated, and taxed marijuana.