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Merits of medical marijuana discussed at Northeast forum

Merits of medical marijuana discussed at Northeast forum

NORFOLK, NE – State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln has introduced a bill in the Nebraska Legislature to legalize the dispensing of medical marijuana. She said she did so after she was repeatedly approached by people who said they or had family members or friends with medical conditions who indicated they have benefitted in having access to marijuana in medical form.

Wishart said she has seen the need for a public health system where people can have access to “medicine” where it can assist them in treating their conditions, somewhat similar to what is allowed in thirty-two states.

“The more I looked into it, the more concerned I became that there are people who are benefitting in states where medical marijuana is legal who are treated like criminals here. The conclusive evidence shows that cannabis helps people and should be a tool that doctors have.”

Wishart was one of three people to lead a discussion on the issue at a Community Conversation at Northeast Community College Monday night.

On the other side of the issue was Luke Niforatos, chief of staff and senior policy advisor at Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a non-profit organization based in Alexandria, VA, opposed to marijuana legalization and commercialization. 

He called legislation, such as Wishart’s LB 110, “premature.” Niforatos said people need to be assured that such medication is safe and the proper way to do that is by going through rigorous clinical trials and have it be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Yes, the FDA is not perfect, but what we should be arguing for is more research. They are doing some research on marijuana, but it is limited. But does that mean we should cut the process, circumvent science and legalize this through the legislature? I think that’s way too far, way too fast.”

Audience member Nicolette Geiger, of Norfolk, who suffers from a number of ailments, said she doesn’t have access to cannabis to keep her from having surgeries to treat her conditions.

“I’m out of FDA meds. There nothing left for me. I want something safe. I want something that comes from a pharmacy … And I believe, Senator Wishart, you’re doing this. You’re giving this state the opportunity to pass a bill that’s highly restricted that will give (medical marijuana) to the people who need it and you’re not going to have others getting it who shouldn’t be getting it.”

Dr. Ally Dering-Anderson, clinical associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science at the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Pharmacy, said there is strong scientific proof that using cannabinoids (the chemical compounds in the plant) would be the drug of choice of certain diagnoses or serve as a “viable option” for people suffering from other ailments.

But she is clear on how it should be dispensed.

“While I am very, very much in favor of patients having access to any of a number of cannabinoids … I want it to be managed by a pharmacist. I absolutely agree with Senator Wishart. If somebody can benefit from it, they need it. But … they need it from me or at least the four pharmacists sitting in this audience who know more about that drug that anybody else. They’re the drug experts.”  

Wishart said she wants to work with pharmacists on the matter.

“The system that I am I looking to set up is going to be highly regulated. We require from seed to sale, testing to make sure there’s no pesticides - to make sure you know what is exactly in that product. It’s not going to be the kind of recreational dispensary that you would see in Colorado.”

The legislation would allow for 30 producers, 30 processors and 30 dispensaries in Nebraska.

Niforatos also argued several times that legalizing marijuana “opens the doors to an industry that simply wants to make a profit.”

“You would unleash a new multi-billion-dollar industry in your state,” he said. “That’s what really (SAM) is concerned about - a much wider lens for who can qualify for this type of marijuana provision (as well as) a lot more people using and a lot more profits being made for big industry that doesn’t want to be regulated.” 

Wishart’s LB 110 is currently before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. She said if the Legislature does not approve the bill, she is working with a group of families to place the issue on the ballot in November 2020 through the petition process. For that to occur, supporters would need to gather signatures from 10-percent of the state's registered voters, or approximately 120,000 people.

Monday’s Community Conversation was sponsored by the Norfolk Daily News, Calmwater Financial Group, and Northeast Community College.



                                  PHOTO CUTLINE


Nebraska State Sen. Anna Wishart, of Lincoln, (right) who has introduced legislation to legalize medical marijuana in the state, speaks during a Community Conversation Forum Monday evening at Northeast Community College in Norfolk. Also on the panel were Luke Niforatos, chief of staff and senior policy advisor at Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and Dr. Ally Dering-Anderson, clinical associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science at the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Pharmacy.