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Wrestling Camps Discuss Advantages of Medical Marijuana Legalization in Nebraska Ahead of Petition Deadline

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Roasting under the mid-June sun on a clear day outside Madison County Courthouse, Benjamin Herner patiently waited for potential signatories to his petition — who could put cannabis on the ballot in the upcoming November election.

Although Hearner is a licensed chiropractor by trade, he has devoted the past decade of his life to an initiative dedicated to the cause of medical cannabis legalization in Nebraska.

As a longtime sufferer of fibromyalgia, Hearner, a Norfolk resident who has spent most of his life in small-town Nebraska, said his firsthand experience with the “powerful” medicinal properties of cannabis convinced him of the need to offer it a legal, safe, and easily accessible market to others.

“I’ve been on methadone, man. I’ve been on all of those anti-inflammatory medications. None of them touched my pain, but THC (the psychoactive chemical in cannabis) did.”

Although he set a personal goal of collecting 100 signatures, Hearner said he far exceeded that well, managing to collect nearly 400 signatures by camping out of the business throughout the winter, spring and early summer for nearly 200 hours.

“Sometimes you have to do it yourself,” he said, “and that’s the attitude I had.”

The cause Hearner is working for, titled Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, is part of a statewide effort to offer potential relief to the many Nebraskans ranging in age from children to the elderly suffering from a variety of ailments, from muscle aches and seizures to Crohn’s disease. And even cancer.

Deadline for petitions looms

The movement, led in the Nebraska legislature by state senators Anna Wishart and Adam Moorfield of Lincoln, has gained momentum in recent years. However, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana finds itself with its own back on the wall, with a deadline of Wednesday, July 7th, 132,000 signatures have been collected so far and there are still more than 60,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

“We still have a very steep hill to climb up to be really honest here,” Wishart said. “But if we get it on the ballot … I think it’s going to have one of the strongest showings of any ballot initiative in terms of people supporting this cause.”

However, the movement has consistently faced opposition from state government institutions, including a heartbreaking defeat for the movement in 2020 when a ballot measure that crossed the state petition’s signature threshold was overturned by the Nebraska Supreme Court for including too many cases. Drafting.

Most recently, the May 2021 Medicinal Cannabis Bill that Wishart proposed was introduced in the state legislature by 31-18 votes, just two short of the two-thirds supermajority required to bypass the disruption and push forward the legislative bill 474.

Wishart, representing the 27th metropolitan area that includes Lincoln’s western tip since 2017, said she believes political calculations still prevent some, if not all, opponents of the bills, comparing the situation to the state’s legalization of gambling in the United States. 2020 elections

“We have been slow for years to legalize gambling,” Wishart said. “Indeed, some of the most enthusiastic senators in the opposition are those who introduce legalization to take advantage of the proceeds of gambling.”

Not just a benign substance

However, politics is not the only thing holding some back. Former Senator John Cohn is on the other side of the debate. First elected to the legislature in 2014, Cohn represented Rural District 38, which covers six counties in south-central Nebraska and whose largest municipality is Holdrej City, as of 2019. He is also co-chair of the Nebraska chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national organization Against the marketing and legalization of cannabis.

The organization has several concerns about the medical legalization of cannabis in Nebraska due to its effects on “youth, mental health and public safety.”

“These are all concerns that voters, citizens, and families should take into account when they come to this issue, because it’s not just benign material,” Cohen said.

These concerns begin with cannabis’ lack of institutional certification, which makes it difficult to determine its safety, Cohn said, and compared that to the way cigarettes are marketed, saying this makes the “medical” label deceptive.

“There is no distinction between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana; it is the same product,” Cohn said. “Anything that has a medical label or terminology used for it must go through the FDA approval process and be regulated in the same way as any other drug.” With a prescription, not using a dispensary form and kind of following the tobacco use guide to make a dangerous drug that’s accessible, especially for kids.”

Wishart disagreed with the view that FDA approval is the best and last resort for drug safety. She cited the adverse effects of many FDA-approved drugs, such as oxycodone, that “destroy people’s lives” and that the federal approach to cannabis was historically biased.

“I think the FDA system is broken when it comes to this problem,” Wishart said. “Looking into the past about criminal bans on cannabis opens your eyes to some of the huge issues of government, bureaucracy, control, and money.”

Furthermore, Wishart cited a 2014 study from the Association for Adolescent Health and Medicine that found from a sample of 11 million teenage students between 1991 and 2011 that there was no increase in use among teens in states with medical cannabis laws.

The main motivation for the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana platform is that cannabis can be used to provide relief for a range of hard-to-treat conditions, including seizures, fibromyalgia, glaucoma and cancer. Wishart linked this momentum with a reference to two issues she encountered during her experience with the legislature.

During her early days campaigning for her seat, she reported speaking with a mother whose daughter had moved to Colorado to receive treatment with cannabis products for her son, who suffered hundreds of seizures daily.

“He’s eliminated his seizures, he’s a happy, healthy 10-year-old boy, and they’d love to go back to that state, but they’d be treated like criminals here,” Wishart said.

After Wishart became a seated senator, she was visited by a man who was allegedly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and lived 10 months by a doctor. The well-documented power of cannabis as an appetite stimulant, which can counteract the appetite-suppressing symptoms of his cancer, led him to pursue an Oregon doctor who specializes in the drug and prescribe a suppository that supposedly helped him survive the disease.

“Why in the world should this man not be able to talk to a doctor in Nebraska to come up with a plant that not a single person has experienced a fatal overdose in over 10,000 years?” She said.

“Not typical patients’

Cohn responded, however, that such anecdotal examples account for only 10% of the releases granted for medical marijuana in legal states, while the other 90% are for “pain and other conditions” that are supposedly not terrible.

“These are, by and large, not the typical patients that are presented as the poster child example of medical marijuana use,” Cohn said. “Most of them are males in their mid-20s with many substance abuse problems who used marijuana and other illegal substances before they got a medical marijuana card.”

Additionally, Cohn noted the uncertainty behind using cannabis to treat the other 10% of patients.

He said that the American Glaucoma Association does not condone the use of cannabis to treat this specific disease and that the drug’s efficacy for many other conditions it is claimed to relieve is uncertain, with well-tried alternatives available even for some, such as CBD for epilepsy, which was federally legalized a year ago. 2018 and in Nebraska since 2019, and is fully accredited by Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“[For]someone to go out and get[the cannabis]and sort of, for lack of a better term, try it on dose titration, and that contradicts everything we know about medicine,” Cohn said. “It is cruel to treat the most vulnerable patients as if they do not deserve the same safety, purity and care as any other patient.”

Cohn also cited studies that have linked cannabis to exacerbation of psychosis and other mental health conditions such as depression and social anxiety, although the fact whether it is able to directly cause these disorders is still widely debated among the medical community.

Even if cannabis was legalized medically, Cohn seemed to doubt the wisdom of instructing doctors to decide whether to provide patients with access to cannabis, especially since there is no framework for prescribing specific doses in dispensary form.

“Opioids are the most highly regulated of the medically controlled substances and we have seen an epidemic of overdoses despite the fact that you have a doctor’s prescription, and not only that, the doctor has DEA authorization and is tightly regulated by pharmacies,” Cohen said. “(Then) we’re talking about 95% to 99%-THC from foods, fumes, and dab products…there is virtually no limit to what an individual can use or consume, and then there is no interaction with a physician and determining what appropriate dose should be” .

Wishart insists that the non-toxicity of cannabis puts it in a different category than opioids, because there is no potential for fatal overdose or withdrawal.

Moreover, she said her medical cannabis bill includes a requirement that physicians undergo “many hours of education” before they are allowed to recommend cannabis to patients, though she did not specify how many hours, or how to calculate the bill for cannabis control. doses. Most states with legal cannabis include limits for periodic transaction and/or purchase.

Despite the complex and often polarizing nature of cannabis, Wishart said her work on campaigns across the state has awakened her to the possibility that the case for cannabis legalization should bring together people on all sides of the spectrum, young and old, Republican or Democrat, especially in the context of recent years.

“After coming out of the COVID pandemic, people are thinking more about their medical freedom, and their ability to make those kinds of decisions,” she said. “It’s actually a problem that I really like to work on when I feel like it’s so easy to take apart these days.”

Cohn cautioned that popularity cannot be the only consideration. He said people often support medical marijuana at first because they don’t fully understand the concept and all the flaws the organization sees in the current framework for legalizing it. Cohen also said that it is difficult for his organization to reach every voter with the appropriate messages.

“When you talk to (voters) about what medical marijuana actually means, they change their minds pretty quickly,” Cohen said. So we absolutely believe that the ballot initiative process is the wrong way to go about legalizing a drug; Having said that, if there is, we will continue to move forward with our educational mission and do what we do.”

However, the odds of a medical marijuana initiative aren’t great to get on the ballot this year, although Wishart said next week’s defeat wouldn’t stop them from fighting for what they believe is right either.

“We will continue to try both on the ballot for the 2024 elections and in the legislature,” Wishart said. “We’re not going far until this works.”

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