Medical Cannabis Bill LB 474 Fails in Nebraska by Two Votes

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Pending legislation in Nebraska that would have established a medical cannabis industry failed by two votes, a frustratingly tight margin for advocates. The vote needed 33 yes votes to pass, and only received 31, making it unable to break a filibuster. LB 474 is officially off the table. 

Nicole Hochstein, a mother of a child with epilepsy, described herself as: “Devastated. Broken. In pieces because they literally voted my child’s life away” following the missed opportunity.

This isn’t the first time medical cannabis advocates in Nebraska have been let down. Back in September, the ballot measure to legalize medical cannabis through a vote was pulled by the Nebraska Supreme Court, who claimed the measure violated the single-subject rule. This was even after those supporting it had collected 196,000 signatures. 

“It’s beyond frustrating. This is literally our children’s lives here,” Hochstein said.

State Senator Anna Wishart backed LB 474, and now plans to start a petition to add the issue to the 2022 ballot. 

“People in the state of Nebraska have the right to medical cannabis for medical purposes, period,” Wishart said. “This is an opportunity to pass a safe and regulated system.” 

Why Did LB 474 Fail?

Many opponents claimed they were worried that medical cannabis would lead to recreational cannabis. 

“If we want to avert recreational marijuana we’re going to have to think about something very restrictive or we will see it everywhere and it will be bad,” said State Senator Mike Flood.

However, while some opponents just plain didn’t want to see any form of legal cannabis, others actually proposed helpful suggestions that would have made the medical cannabis industry more palatable for those who are hesitant. 

“One of those was to treat our medical cannabis system similar to the way that we treat some of our other pain medication systems through what’s called a PDMP system,” said Wishart. “That got us a lot of votes and a lot of trust on this issue but unfortunately we were two votes short of overcoming a filibuster.”

Senator Mike Groene ended up changing his mind on the matter. Although he was nervous about medical cannabis, he would rather see patients have the ability to get what they need through legal channels. 

“If we’re going to stop recreational marijuana, if we are going to get to the point where good, solid citizens are using this for pain relief and to get them out of the shadows of illegality, we need to accept this,” he said. “I was deadly against it. I figured, ‘Here comes Senator Wishart again with one of the bills she brought six years ago.’ But she has cleaned this thing up.”

“When you hear the evidence, how people’s lives have been helped by having access to cannabis for medical purposes, it moves people to change their vote from a no to a yes,” Wishart said.

Still, this ended up not being enough, as 18 lawmakers voted against LB 474. 

“I have the utmost respect for Sen. Wishart. I just fundamentally disagree. I come from a different place in my life. I come from a different perspective, and I think we have no business doing this. I am unwilling personally to take the responsibility of what this does in a family, what it can do in our state,” said Senator Suzanne Geist. “It is a responsibility I am unwilling to take, and therefore I will be a no, and I will continue to be a no.”

And, while this is frustrating, it is doubtful that Governor Pete Ricketts would have signed the bill into law. He has been quoted as saying “there is no such thing as medical marijuana” and calling the bill and ballot efforts “terrible.” 

“We’ll work to educate Nebraskans why if this gets on the ballot they should vote no,” Ricketts said.

But the fight isn’t over, as advocates are not ready to give up on those who need the medicine. Time will tell whether a ballot measure ends up being successful next year in overturning the outdated prohibition on medical cannabis in Nebraska.

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