Our country’s national conversation about the much-debated medicinal virtues of marijuana has found its way to the Nebraska Legislature. Before the end of this session, senators will likely consider legislation that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Nebraska. During the committee hearing process, my administration expressed concerns about the legislation, and those concerns have only grown with the Judiciary Committee’s decision to move it to the floor.
As the use of marijuana has been legalized in some states, including our neighbor Colorado, we have been able to observe the impact the legalization of marijuana has had not only in their state, but as well as our own. Legalization of marijuana for any purpose has proven to be a risky proposition because the controls placed on its use in other states have fallen short. Sheriffs I visit with along the Colorado-Nebraska border tell me that the Colorado law has led to increased criminal activity, placing a greater burden on law enforcement in our state. While Colorado legalized recreational use of marijuana, states like California, who attempted to limit marijuana use to a medical purpose, have seen their system abused by marijuana users who access dispensaries for recreational use.
In spite of efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational or medicinal use in other states, marijuana remains a federally banned controlled substance whose medicinal value has not been tested. While parents and advocates have made their case at the state level here in Nebraska and elsewhere for marijuana’s medical use, our country already has a process in place through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine whether a drug constitutes safe and effective medical treatment. Because of the tested and trusted regulatory framework of the FDA, Americans enjoy the highest-quality and safest pharmaceutical drugs in the world.
While attempts to circumvent the FDA review process may be driven by good will, any legalization effort outside this process puts Nebraskans at risk. For this reason, marijuana should not receive special treatment. Just like any other dangerous drug, marijuana should be subject to the same thorough examination by the FDA to study any potential adverse effects, appropriate treatment schedules, drug interactions, and long-term effects among other topics. Legalization by legislation is no substitute for rigorous FDA review. Major medical associations, including the American Academy of Neurology and the American Academy of Pediatrics, continue to oppose legalization of marijuana for medicinal or recreational use because of the lack of hard scientific research and potential health consequences. While senators have the best interests of Nebraskans in mind, scientific and pharmaceutical experts should fully study marijuana’s merits.
In the absence of an FDA review, expert medical research shows that marijuana is dangerous. A 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that marijuana use “impairs critical cognitive functions.” Another study conducted by Northwestern Medicine in conjunction with Harvard Medical School found that even semi-regular marijuana use altered parts of the human brain that control for “emotion and motivation.” These are troubling findings, and only mark the beginning to understanding the impact of long-term marijuana use on the human brain and body.
We are already witnessing the results of an informal medical experiment play out here in our state. In recent years, the use of K2, a synthetic form of marijuana, has spread in Nebraska and the consequences of its use have been increasingly dire in spite of attempts by the Legislature to ban its use. Since April 12th, K2 has resulted in over 100 overdoses just in the Lincoln area alone. This is yet another reminder of how dangerous marijuana can be and why any medicinal use needs FDA oversight.
As the debate over medical marijuana takes center stage in the Unicameral, we must be cautious before we follow the lead of other states. Legalizing marijuana legislatively not only gives marijuana a pass on the important FDA review process, but it also puts the well-being of Nebraskans at risk. If you feel strongly about this issue, please take a moment to contact your state senator. You can find all the information you need to reach them at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov.