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Needed Legislative Proposals

Editorial: Nebraska should move toward the growing U.S. mainstream on marijuana

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State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln has been one of the main proponents of marijuana policy proposals in the Nebraska Legislature.

Here’s a prediction: Adult recreational use of marijuana will be legal across the United States by the end of this decade. Probably sooner.

It has broad political support, with polling showing that about two-thirds of Americans favor legalization. A majority of every age group, every educational demographic and income level supports it. Among self-identified conservatives, 49% favor legalization.

Politicians will stand on traditional and personal beliefs only so long in the face of such widespread support.

It is one of the few issues in the country that isn’t starkly partisan, as demonstrated by voter approval in November of legal marijuana in generally conservative Montana and South Dakota. Mississippi voters, with 74% approval, in November added medical marijuana to the state constitution.

South Dakota’s approval is in limbo at the moment, after a state court judge last month ruled it unconstitutional. Still, 14 states have legalized adult use of marijuana, 18 others have what the National Conference of State Legislatures terms “comprehensive medical cannabis programs” and others, including Iowa, have “CBD/low THC” programs. Only three states, Nebraska, Kansas and Idaho, have no established public access program.

Quick definitions: THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a THC cousin that doesn’t make people high, but has received widespread testimonials for medical benefits, particularly the ability to reduce or eliminate seizures.

CBD is legal under the 2018 farm bill that approved hemp as an agricultural product, but it is almost completely unregulated and much of what is sold at retail outlets is of untested content or quality. So while it may indeed be a miracle drug for some people with epilepsy or post-traumatic stress syndrome, medical rigor is lacking. What’s the right dose and frequency, for example? In Nebraska, doctors cannot prescribe medically tested compounds.

Medical claims about both CBD and THC are anecdotal — in part because marijuana’s federal classification as a dangerous drug has limited researchers’ ability to study it.

Nebraskans nearly got the chance to vote on medical marijuana in November, after petition organizers collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot, but the State Supreme Court ruled that it violated the single-subject requirement for ballot measures.

So this year, once again, lawmakers are considering a medical marijuana bill, in addition to a bill that would decriminalize pot and allow people convicted of marijuana offenses to clear their record.

It is The World-Herald’s view that recreational marijuana is both inevitable and proper public policy. States that have legalized the drug have realized significant tax revenue, the industry has brought investment and employment, and feared problems have not been greater than when marijuana was illegal.

A lot of people use pot whether it’s legal or not, and while this is an old argument, it is absolutely true that marijuana is vastly less dangerous than alcohol, which kills nearly 100,000 Americans each year — more than are killed by all other drugs combined, including opioids.

In America’s failed drug war, marijuana users, particularly people of color, have been casualties, with many in prison.

While we don’t think Nebraska is ready to go full-on Colorado, we do support both legislative proposals.

Any medical marijuana program must be tightly regulated, requiring that the origin of the drug be known, traced and taxed, and that product potency be tested.

Some states — Colorado and Michigan among them — legalized medical marijuana, but with scant regulation. Both states run much tighter regulatory ships now that they have legalized and taxed recreational sales.

Just as gambling proved to be in Nebraska’s November voting, marijuana is a political winner. The state should move toward the widening mainstream acceptance of that reality, reform its criminal justice approach, and begin setting up a tax and regulatory framework.


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