Parents of these children, who suffer from epileptic seizures, have been among those pleading for Nebraska to legalize medical marijuana. Pictured are, from left, Colton Eggers, Jayen Hochstein and Will Gillen. (Courtesy of Crista Eggers)
LINCOLN — Advocates for legalizing medical marijuana switched Wednesday from urging Nebraskans to sign their petition to begging them as a July 7 deadline looms to submit signatures to qualify for the ballot in November.
In sometimes emotional pleas at a press conference, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana said its all-volunteer signature collection effort will fail unless Nebraskans take the initiative to seek out a place to sign their petition.
“Do it for the suffering people in this state who are pleading with you,” said Crista Eggers of Omaha, as she held up a photograph of her 7-year-old son, Colton, who suffers from up to 100 epileptic seizures a day.
‘We are begging you’
“This will fail if you don’t step up. We are begging you,” said Eggers, who serves as campaign chairman for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana.
The petition drive has collected about 60,000 signatures for each of its two initiatives but needs another 50,000 signatures per petition by the July 7 deadline to ensure there are enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Each petition will need about 87,000 valid signatures to qualify, according to State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, a co-chair of the initiative.
“It’s on Nebraska to go out and find a place to sign,” Wishart said.
Businesses have petitions
More than 100 businesses across the state have petitions, she said, which can be found at nebraskamarijuana.org/sign Her group will also have volunteer signature gathers at upcoming events, including Tuesday’s special election in the 1st Congressional District.
The 2022 petition drive was necessitated after a successful petition effort two years ago was tossed off the ballot. The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the single petition violated the legal requirement that such petitions contain only a single subject. This year, the initiative is passing two petitions to address that issue.
Thirty-seven states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have legalized cannabis for medical use by qualified individuals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ten other states have allowed the use of low-THC, high cannabidiol (CBD) products as medicine.
Could prevent surgery
One parent, Nicole Hochstein of Papillion, said allowing her 12-year-old son, Jayen, the opportunity to try a cannabis oil to quell his seizures could prevent him from undergoing an invasive brain surgery that will require him to re-learn how to walk and talk.
“If he was in one of 47 other states he could try an oil, underneath his tongue,” Hochstein said. “We have been pleading for help in this state far too long.”
Another parent, Dominic Gillen of Bellevue, said he has been seeking legalization of medical cannabis for 10 years. Sitting next to him, moaning, was his 20-year-old son, Will, who suffers from multiple seizures every day.
“He’s telling you in his own way to please go sign,” the elder Gillen said, his voice breaking.
Opposed by governor, SAM
Gov. Pete Ricketts and the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Nebraska have opposed legalization of medical marijuana, saying it is not FDA-approved and needs to undergo medical studies. Ricketts has said it is a step toward legalization of recreational marijuana, which he maintains has increased drug problems among children in other states.
Eggers said she also supports FDA approval of medical cannabis but said the process is moving much too slowly. Her son has not responded to the legal medications available in Nebraska, she said, and meanwhile, Colton and other children are suffering.
“We don’t know if (medical cannabis) will help him or not,” Eggers said. But she said it has provided some relief and improvement in the quality of life for others.
“We want the chance,” she said.
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