After eight years of failed efforts, advocates for legalizing medical cannabis try again in the Legislature

By: - January 18, 2023 10:08 am
Stacks of Petitions

Stacks of signed petitions sat in Crista Eggers’ home in Omaha in May 2022, awaiting submission to the state in July. Eggers is the statewide campaign coordinator for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana. (Rebecca S. Gratz)

LINCOLN — Advocates for legalizing cannabis for medical use are trying again in 2023, despite at least eight years of setbacks in Nebraska.

“There is one thing we will not do, and that is give up,” said Crista Eggers of Gretna, whose son suffers from intractable epileptic seizures.

The first proposal in the Nebraska Legislature to legalize marijuana for medicinal use was defeated eight years ago, when a bill introduced by Bellevue Sen. Tommy Garrett was blocked.

Other similar legislation has failed, but in 2020, a medical marijuana ballot initiative was headed to almost certain victory before it was tossed off the ballot by the Nebraska Supreme Court for violating the state’s “single subject” rule for such initiatives.

Anna Wishart
State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln (courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

Despite those disappointments, another effort was launched Tuesday with the introduction of Legislative Bill 588, the “Medicinal Cannabis Act,” by State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, a leading advocate.

Wishart said LB 588 is “one of the most conservative medical cannabis bills in the nation” and is being introduced amid “growing evidence” that marijuana has medicinal values for reducing seizures and relieving pain and that it can help reduce use of opioids.

‘Long past time’

“It is long past time that Nebraskans have access to a far safer alternative medicine,” the senator said.

Thirty-seven states, including Missouri and Colorado, have legalized medical marijuana.

LB 588 is similar to a bill introduced in 2021 that came two votes short of overcoming a filibuster. Eggers, who is a spokeswoman for Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis, said the bill prohibits the smoking of marijuana as medicine and home growing of cannabis, and it has a narrower list of maladies that can be treated with cannabis.

Post-traumatic stress syndrome, for instance, is excluded, despite support for the use of cannabis for PTSD from some veterans groups, including the American Legion.

Hopefully, with a new administration and a new governor, we can have a conversation,” Eggers said.

Jim Pillen answers questions during his gubernatorial campaign last year. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

New Gov. Jim Pillen appears to have a similar stance on legalizing cannabis for medicinal use as his predecessor, Gov. Pete Ricketts, who opposed legalization unless there was testing and marijuana was approved as a drug by the Federal Drug Administration.

Pillen, in October, gave Omaha television station KETV a similar opinion.

Pillen wants FDA approval

“I am a supporter of FDA-approved process prescriptions, so approved medical marijuana through the FDA process, then we have safe product that all of us can agree on,” Pillen told KETV.

Last year, an initiative petition drive to get the issue on the ballot fell short. Advocates blamed the lack of paid petition circulators and the death of a major financier of the successful 2020 petition drive.

Medical marijuana
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)

But Eggers said there’s “no question” that Nebraskans support allowing medical marijuana, and she hopes lawmakers “show compassion” this year.

Another longtime advocate, Dominic Gillen, whose son, Will, struggles with frequent seizures, said it’s time for lawmakers to act.

“My family has been fighting for this for eight years. A handful of senators in the Capitol building are preventing my son from having a better quality of life,” Gillen said. “This is wrong.”

Eggers added that if LB 588 fails to pass, advocates will once again launch a petition drive to seek voter approval.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.