Nebraska lawmakers block compassionate cannabis legislation
Last update: April 6, 2016
On April 5, 2016, a group of Nebraska lawmakers blocked the Unicameral from voting on a comprehensive medical cannabis program, Sen. Tommy Garrett’s Medical Cannabis Act (LB 643). The Senate passed the bill in May 2015 but it needed to pass two more times to go to Gov. Pete Ricketts, and a supermajority of 33 of the 49 senators was needed to survive a filibuster. Sadly, the cloture vote fell three votes short, 30-15.
On April 20, 2016, the legislature will adjourn for the year, meaning there can be no further action in the legislature until 2017.
Thank you to those who fought so hard for patients: Sens. Garrett and Howard, their staff Colin Fury and Timoree Klinger, Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis, NORML Omaha, the Nebraska ACLU, Radcliffe and Associates, and everyone who spoke out for compassion.
While we are deeply disappointed by the vote, we will continue to fight for the rights of patients and their families in Nebraska. Hopefully, with additional education and increased pressure from the residents of Nebraska, next year will see the enactment of compassionate medical cannabis legislation.
Did you know Nebraska is a “decrim” state?
Nebraska is one of the 19 states that do not jail individuals found in possession of a small amount of cannabis — at least for a first offense. First offense possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is a civil infraction punishable under Nebraska law by a $300 fine (and a possible drug education course) instead of jail time, and is a citation as opposed to an arrest. Second offense possession of up to an ounce carries a $400 fine and up to five days in jail, and third offense possession is punishable by up to a week in jail and a fine of $500. Second and third offense possession are misdemeanors, but are only citable, and not arrestable, offenses.
Even so, there were still 7,756 marijuana arrests and/or citations in 2012. Unfortunately, these arrests disproportionately affect minority communities. According to the ACLU, African Americans in Nebraska are nearly five times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as their white neighbors, despite similar use rates.
Instead of wasting Nebraskans’ tax dollars filing desperate legal challenges against other states that have chosen to sensibly reform their marijuana policy — as Nebraska’s attorney general has done — lawmakers should take a proactive approach to controlling the market by replacing marijuana prohibition with a system that legalizes marijuana for adults 21 and older and regulates it like alcohol. This approach would take the lucrative product off the criminal market and create thousands of legitimate jobs and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. It would also allow police to focus on serious and violent crime.
You can learn more about Nebraska’s marijuana penalties and enforcement by reading this report by Jon Gettman, Ph.D.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Nebraska, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.