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Safeguard Public Health

 

By Governor Pete Ricketts

January 28, 2019

 

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Last week, former Husker Football Coach Tom Osborne and several Nebraskans visited the State Capitol to issue a warning to state lawmakers ahead of a hearing on LB 110, a proposal to legalize marijuana in Nebraska.  They are right to be concerned about the consequences of legalizing marijuana.  The impact in other states has been significant.  Every two and a half days in Colorado, someone dies in a marijuana-related car accident, and every one in six kids who was hospitalized for a respiratory illness was exposed to marijuana.  As Mary Hilton, a mother from Lincoln who testified said, “[this is] very dangerous legislation,” and the bill would subject Nebraskans to a “giant medical experiment” should it pass. 

 

During the hearing on the bill, opponents presented many thoughtful arguments.  LB 110 would broadly legalize marijuana, ostensibly for medical use, by allowing people to grow marijuana in their own homes for any ailment.  Furthermore, the bill ignores federal law to set Nebraska on a path to legalizing recreational marijuana.  I will highlight three of the major arguments made by opponents of the bill here.

 

First, marijuana legalization has wreaked havoc in other states.  In Colorado, traffic deaths involving people who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled between 2013 and 2017.  From 2006 to 2013, states that legalized marijuana under the guise of medicine saw a 610 percent increase in the rate of children with a hospital visit due to unintentional exposure to marijuana.  In her testimony, a doctor who had practiced in Colorado and now works in Nebraska shared the stories of victims of marijuana legalization.  For example, Levi Pongi, age 19, died after consuming a marijuana cookie and jumping off a balcony.  Marc Bullard, age 23, committed suicide after he began using a concentrated form of marijuana.  He had no previous history of depression.  These stories reflect data from Colorado showing that the number of youth suicides with marijuana present has tripled in 10 years.

 

Second, legislatively approving new drugs would set a precedent for how Nebraska approaches medicine.  For many years, the United States has had the best system of medical research in the world.  We have access to safe and effective pharmaceutical drugs thanks in part to outstanding research universities, peer-reviewed studies, and clinical trials overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The FDA has already researched and approved Epidiolex and Marinol, both products based on derivatives or synthetic versions of marijuana.  LB 110 would circumvent the research process and rely on non-expert opinions rather than clinical research.  Hearing participants noted that state policymakers do not have the expertise in medicine or pharmacology to determine dosing, drug interactions, and appropriate medical uses for marijuana. 

 

Research in recent years showing the negative impacts of marijuana is confirming why this drug deserves expert medical review.  From the New England Journal of Medicine to Northwestern Medicine, research is revealing that marijuana has harmful impacts on brain function and emotional health including schizophrenia and psychosis among others.

 

Third, the marijuana industry has worked for the legalization of recreational marijuana in other states.  States, such as Colorado and Michigan, that started with marijuana, purportedly for a medical purpose, moved to legalize recreational marijuana.  Nebraska should expect nothing different if marijuana is legislatively approved for a limited purpose now.  Furthermore, at least one state is already seeing a new attempt to push beyond marijuana and to legalize another drug that is currently illegal: hallucinogenic mushrooms.

 

As the session progresses, I expect that there will be vigorous debate on the subject of marijuana.  There has already been one amendment to LB 110, and there will likely be additional changes as proponents attempt to garner more votes.  I will not support LB 110 under any circumstances.  We have seen the marijuana industry’s vision for what they want in Nebraska.  It is clear in the two versions of the bill already presented to the Legislature, and you can see it in what has happened in California and Colorado.  Public health depends on the integrity of our medical research process and practice, and legalizing marijuana without traditional medical trials gambles with the health and safety of the people of Nebraska. 

 

These are just a few of the concerns Nebraskans are raising.  The Legislature should listen and maintain the integrity of our world-class system of medical research.  I hope you will take a few moments to contact your State Senator and ask them to safeguard public health and reject LB 110.  You can find your Senator’s contact information at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov.  If you have questions or thoughts you would like to share with me, please email pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.