Nebraska senators scrap medical marijuana for the year

By ANNA GRONEWOLD

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The sponsor of a proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Nebraska pulled the bill from the Legislature’s agenda on Wednesday, citing a flurry of other divisive votes senators have had to defend recently - including a repeal of the death penalty.

Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue asked Wednesday to hold his bill until June 15, ensuring senators will not revisit the debate until next year.

The move came one day after the Omaha chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws filed a petition to put the medical marijuana on the ballot for voters to decide.

Omaha NORML founder Bryan Boganowski said the petition would reinstate some of the more conservative compromises made on the floor of the Legislature, such as the ban on smoking the drug.

“They had their chance to pass one of the tightest medical marijuana programs in the country and they couldn’t get it done,” Boganowski said.

Nebraska’s Constitution requires petition circulators to gather signatures from 7 percent of all registered voters if they want to change a state law and 10 percent if they want to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. They’re required to visit at least 38 of Nebraska’s 93 counties and collect signatures from at least 5 percent of the registered voters in each.

The petition must be submitted by July 5, 2016, and Boganowski said he is confident a year will be enough time to show the majority of Nebraska residents back medical marijuana.

“It’s been a common thing for Nebraska to kind of kick the can down the road on issues like this. And the legislative body? They’ve failed on what the people wanted for the state,” Boganowski said.

The bill survived first-round debate with a 27-12 vote earlier this month, but Garrett says Speaker Galen Hadley, of Kearney, approached him Tuesday saying support had buckled under heat from constituents and the governor on other issues. Garrett said senators have been bombarded with criticism about their votes to repeal the death penalty and have been forced to prioritize tough choices.

“I don’t want to name names, but one individual just got the stuffing kicked out of him this weekend,” Garrett said.

The Legislature passed a bill to repeal the death penalty repeal last week with a 32-15 majority. But Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill Tuesday and approached individual senators to try to weaken the support. An aggressive social media campaign also slammed Garrett and other Republican senators for votes that have strayed from classic party lines. Garrett said those measures pushed the officially nonpartisan Legislature to choose sides.

“It’s been pretty polarizing,” he said.

Garrett said he believes medical marijuana has more support than votes show and will spend the coming months speaking with senators and the Department of Health and Human Services to craft an air-tight bill that more senators will endorse. Garrett has said he sees the bill as a unique way the Legislature can make a direct impact on the quality of life for those suffering from cancer, HIV, glaucoma, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

“The thing that’s just heartbreaking to me is the people who are hurting and sick. Doggoneit. It breaks my heart,” he said.

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