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Group to Lobby State for Legalized Medical Marijuana [Nebraska]
    #426460 - 05/31/10 03:33 PM (6 years, 4 months ago)

Group to Lobby State for Legalized Medical Marijuana

By NANCY HICKS / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Monday, May 31, 2010 4:30 am

A group that believes Nebraskans should be able to use marijuana for medical needs is taking its case to the state's pharmacy licensing board.

They are hoping the pharmacy board will recommend that the Legislature open the door for medical marijuana use, as the Iowa Board of Pharmacy did in February.

But a city official in Billings, Mont., where the number of medical-marijuana businesses has risen from a handful to more than 70 since October, had some advice to Nebraskans.

"Nip it in the bud," he suggests.

And the chairman of the Nebraska Legislature's Judiciary Committee doesn't expect to see any bills related to medical marijuana introduced anytime soon.

The goal is opening the eyes of others to the benefits of medical marijuana, said Diana Wulf, one of three medical-marijuana proponents who attended the May meeting of the state pharmacy licensing board.

Marijuana can be effectively used for attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorders, curbing the nausea of chemotherapy, and the pain associated with many conditions, according to supporters.

Marijuana would have benefited Bill Hawkins' father, who had painful neuropathy and died of lung and liver cancer, as well as his mother, who died of lung cancer.

"Cannabis would have greatly relieved their pain without side effects," said Hawkins, a spokesman for H.E.M.P. (Helping End Marijuana Prohibition), the group which sent representatives to the recent licensing board meetings.

Hawkins, a Lancaster County organic farmer, also extols the benefits of the hemp plant in general.

"The early constitution was written on hemp paper. Columbus sailed over on hemp sails with hemp ropes," he says.

Hemp concrete (a carbon-storing concrete) is being used to insulate houses on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, he said.

The group plans to educate Nebraskans about all the beneficial uses of hemp and medical marijuana and will continue to attend the pharmacy board meetings, Hawkins said.

Montana is one of 14 states allowing the medical use of marijuana.

But the law, passed as an initiative by voters in 2004, has strayed from its original intent - to help people with debilitating end-of-life medical issues, according to Ed Ulledalen, a Billings, Mont., city councilman.

"We thought it would be dispensed by pharmacies. But it's not legal to have it in a pharmacy," he said.

What has happened is a quasi legalization of marijuana, he said.

Storefronts that dispense marijuana and "caretakers" who grow it are multiplying like rabbits in spring, he said.

Since September, the number of medical-marijuana patients in the state has more than tripled to nearly 14,000.

And communities like Billings are trying to figure out how to regulate the new medical-marijuana business and hoping for some direction from the state legislature, said Ulledalen.

"I don't even know where to start," he said about the problems related to medical-marijuana. "It's a quagmire."

Before even moving this direction, a state "should figure out who has the best model, if there is one," he said

Better yet, "nip it in the bud while you can, no pun intended," he said.

Nebraska's pharmacy licensing board chairman isn't sure that his board is the right place to start .

The real question is whether the issue should even come before the board, said Richard Zarek, a Gothenburg pharmacist and chairman of the Nebraska Board of Pharmacy.

The licensing board advises the Department of Health and Human Services on the practice of pharmacy. Under federal law, marijuana is not eligible to be dispensed, he said.

"That puts it out of our purview," he said.

An independent pharmacy board in Iowa last winter recommended that the Legislature reclassify marijuana so that it could be used for medical treatment.

The Iowa Legislature has not reclassified the drug.

In Nebraska, the first step should be proposing the legalization, not a licensing board recommendation, said Zarek.

"It seems it would be premature for us to consider this," he said in a telephone interview last week.

But there's not likely to be any legislation in the near future.

"I don't see any likelihood of that," said State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, where a medical-marijuana bill would likely land.

"Drugs, in the Omaha area specifically, have created such a huge crisis, I can't even imagine this (someone introducing a bill to make marijuana use legal)," he said.

"It's not going to happen, even though an argument can be made for it," Ashford said.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com


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