2019 Medical Cannabis Op-Eds
Feb 19, 2019 01:00PM
By Doug Meigs
Here are three divergent views on medical cannabis from the perspective of Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, former Nebraska Sen. Tommy Garrett, and Mary Jane Doe (an anonymous drug dealer):
- "Safeguard Public Health" by Gov. Pete Ricketts
- "We Need Medical Cannabis…Now!" by Tommy L. Garrett, Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel
- "Confessions of a Marijuana Smoker Turned Dealer" by Mary Jane Doe
by Gov. Pete Ricketts
Former Husker Football Coach Tom Osborne and several Nebraskans visited the State Capitol to issue a warning to state lawmakers ahead of a Jan. 25 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 legalize another drug that is currently illegal: hallucinogenic mushrooms.
As the session progresses, I expect 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 to, 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 nebraskalegislature.gov. If you have questions or thoughts you would like to share with me, please email [email protected] or call 402-471-2244.(Editor's note: a version of this letter was originally published Jan. 28 on Gov. Rickett's official website, here).
by Tommy L. Garrett, Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel
How does a retired Air Force Intelligence Colonel, fortunate enough to serve as a Nebraska State Senator representing the 3rd Legislative District, come to sponsor legislation for medical cannabis? There is a one-word answer: moms.
I vividly remember the Friday afternoon on the last day to submit legislation for the 2015 session when I returned to my office from a Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee meeting. There were some ladies waiting for me in my office. These ladies had one thing in common…they all had children suffering from seizure disorders for whom traditional medicines were not working. They told me a story about a little girl in Colorado who had miraculously been helped with her life-threatening seizures through the use of medical cannabis. The little girl’s name was Charlotte. The company that produced/manufactured the medical cannabis that she used was so impressed with the results that they named that product after the little girl…they name the product Charlotte’s Web.
These moms were desperate to help their children and medical cannabis offered hope. One of the moms who has a daughter that suffers from seizures is taking an incredible number of meds—that were not working—and the doctors were recommending the next step in her treatment to be a frontal lobectomy (i.e., removing an entire lobe of the brain). Take a moment and think about that.
The stories these moms conveyed to me were heart-wrenching…and compelling. I’m not a politician…I hate politicians. I volunteered to serve in the Legislature so that I could help make a difference in people’s lives. I was honored to serve in several leadership positions when I was on active duty and my goal was always the same: accomplish the mission and take care of people. Here was that opportunity, in the Legislature, to truly help people.
When I agreed to bring a medical cannabis bill I really didn’t know the first thing about medical cannabis. I did have some peripheral knowledge of cannabis being used for medical purposes. My father-in-law was taking chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer back in 1979 and was getting so violently ill with nausea that he could no longer take his treatments. The chemo also took away his appetite. His oncologist recommended that he smoke cannabis as it would alleviate the nausea and restore his appetite. I can remember thinking at the time that it was strange that a doctor would recommend an “illegal drug” to treat his cancer. Nevertheless, my father-in-law was able to easily acquire the cannabis and it did exactly what the doctor said it would. The nausea stopped, and he regained his appetite, which in turn allowed him to resume his chemotherapy treatment.
So, like any good intelligence officer…or legislator…I set about getting myself educated about medical cannabis. To say that I was stunned with what I found would be an understatement. I found out that cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. The Chinese were among the first to use cannabis for medicinal purposes. By 1850, cannabis became part of the American pharmacopoeia. It was listed as a useful drug for a whole litany of ailments and diseases. However, for some strange reason in 1937 Congress passed a law against cannabis. This occurred despite the objections of the American Medical Association (AMA). They argued that outlawing cannabis would “deprive U.S. citizens of a drug of substantial value.” Nevertheless, just like that, medical cannabis became illegal. Have I told you how much I hate politicians (#followthemoney)?
The disingenuousness of those that argue that cannabis isn’t FDA approved and that there hasn’t been any research to establish the efficacy of cannabis is obscene. The FDA classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug. By definition, a Schedule I drug has “no currently accepted medical use.” Examples of Schedule I drugs are: heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, Meth…and cannabis. And, oh by the way, you cannot conduct research on any Schedule I drug…because after all, by definition, they don’t have any accepted medical use. Wait a minute! What? It’s the proverbial Catch 22…we cannot do research on cannabis to establish its medical efficacy because it’s a Schedule I drug…defined as a drug with “no currently accepted use.” What?
Anyone who will but take the time to research this topic will quickly realize that cannabis has legitimate medicinal value for treatment of numerous ailments and diseases. This is evidenced by the fact that there are now 33 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical cannabis. And, internationally, there are 30+ countries that have legalized medical cannabis. Americans are not stupid. National polls show overwhelming approval of medical cannabis. More and more states are approving medical cannabis every year and it’s only a matter of time before it’s legalized at the national level.
The Nebraska Legislature is going to debate medical cannabis again in 2019. There’s also an initiative to get the issue on the ballot for 2020. The Nebraska Legislature, and the governor, need to ask themselves the question: Do we want to approve a bill for medical cannabis in the Legislature and thereby control it (i.e., how it’s produced, distributed, and for what ailments and diseases it can be used) or have it approved by ballot and not have any control as to how it is produced and distributed? The bottom line is all about helping people who are sick and ailing. The Nebraska Legislature needs to pass a medical cannabis law in 2019.(Editor's note: Tommy Garrett represented the 3rd Legislative District in the Nebraska Legislature between 2013 and 2017. He introduced a bill, LB643, that proposed legalization of medical cannabis in 2015).
by Mary Jane Doe
I have been smoking weed for half of my life. Recently, I heard someone voice their assumption that I don’t smoke. It reminded me that—however transparent I think my habit is—it’s not transparent to everyone.
I’m a college graduate with a professional job who, for lack of a better term, looks “normal.” Since I’m a social smoker, I tend to surround myself with people who also smoke. The people I smoke with are average Nebraskans. They are your cashiers, medical providers, veterans, artists, fitness instructors, teachers, parents, retail workers, engineers, cosmetologists, farmers, etc. They are your neighbors, your cousins, your friends who are too scared to tell you that they smoke in fear of judgment, and they are your family.
Don’t get me wrong, not everyone smokes marijuana. Even though 66 percent of Americans support its legalization (according to a 2018 report from Gallup), legalization and consumption are different. There are plenty of people, however, who are too scared to tell anyone—besides their significant other and their smoking buddies—in fear of the consequences.
Since we live in a state where marijuana is not legal, I also cannot disclose my marijuana use to some of my close friends, my work, my befriended coworkers, and to those who are strict believers in marijuana being illegal. I never know how others knowing that I smoke marijuana will negatively affect my life. Will they try to get me fired? Will they unfriend me? Will they disown me? These are some of the judgments and consequences that I, and many others, live in fear of, so I keep this secret from them. If I lived in a state in which medical and/or recreational marijuana was legal, this would be a different scenario.
We, as people, tend to judge others based on the social norms and stereotypes we have learned growing up. The typical marijuana user has been branded as being lazy and unmotivated (a mooch, if you will). However, people use marijuana for a plethora of reasons that have nothing to do with being lazy. I know one local user who is a mother of two who smokes after her kids go to bed when she wants to clean. I also know a user suffering from hyperactivity disorder, and instead of taking a pill every day, they smoke to calm down. Others deal with social anxiety and smoke before heading to parties or large events to prevent panic attacks. Some deal with low appetites because of various digestive issues and smoke in order to eat enough food to live—as with cancer patients undergoing chemo. A close relative with multiple sclerosis was prescribed, and regularly consumed, marijuana in the form of edibles and tincture (in a state where it is legal); unfortunately, this relative has since passed away from complications relating to the disease, but the medication did offer relief.
Some smokers don’t like to consume alcohol and smoke when socializing instead of drinking. There are so many reasons people smoke, I could never cover them all, nor could I speak for all smokers. Whether for recreational or medicinal purposes, there are “pot-smokers” from all segments of society and socioeconomic status who consume marijuana for various personal reasons while they maintain their public personas as contributing members of society.
Can I tell you a secret? You have absolutely spoken to someone when they were high on marijuana and until now, you had absolutely no idea. How do I know? Well, for the past six years, I’ve been selling marijuana to friends and friends of friends as my side job. Marijuana has always been easy to access in Nebraska—even before it became legal in Colorado.
Now with legalization (for medical and recreational use) spreading throughout the United States, I’m faced with the prospect of losing a source of my income. Do I support legalization? Yes. But it’s complicated for me. I think it would be the right thing to do. I think it would be the logical thing to do. But I could lose that income stream. Maybe there would be some sort of regulatory framework or licensing regime that would allow local entrepreneurs—such as myself—to continue in the market. Or maybe I would be squeezed out by larger market forces.
It’s hard to say what the future holds for legalization of marijuana in Nebraska. Regardless, marijuana will continue to be consumed in our society by regular folks who are good people. Just like me.(Editor's note: Mary Jane Doe is a pseudonym. The writer contributed this essay on the condition of anonymity.)
Read more about the medical cannabis debate as it relates to CBD in the March/April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine (in the editor's letter, "Legal CBD, Medical Cannabis, and in Between," and the cover story, "'CBD Madness' Sweeps Nebraska").