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ERDMAN: Western Nebraska paying the price for Colorado's marijuana legalization

ERDMAN: Western Nebraska paying the price for Colorado's marijuana legalization

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Earlier this month Nebraska State Senators Adam Morfeld and Anna Wishart, both from Lincoln, launched a new petition drive to legalize medical marijuana in our state. Instead of waiting to see the full effects of recreational marijuana use in Colorado, they presume that history will be on their side. But, just like what happened in Colorado, medical marijuana is not the end game in this long political fight.

What we already know about Colorado’s love for weed has not been good for that state. For instance, among teens age 12-17 marijuana use has risen by 39 percent, and traffic fatalities involving users have also dramatically climbed. From 2007-2012 traffic fatalities increased by 100 percent among those testing positive for the drug. Emergency room visits related to marijuana use also increased 57 percent from 2011 to 2013. Therefore, I reject the argument that marijuana usage, whether it be for medical reasons or for recreational reasons, bears no social consequences.

Marijuana remains an illegal drug. The marijuana plant remains on the federal government’s list of controlled substances. Colorado’s Amendment 64 has done nothing to legalize marijuana. Those who grow, manufacture, and dispense the product continue to do so in violation of federal laws. So, purchasing marijuana at a Colorado dispensary and bringing it across the state line into Nebraska remains a crime, and for this reason our jails near the Colorado border remain full of those charged with federal drug trafficking.

Colorado’s drug habit affects Nebraska in some rather debilitating ways. Because Colorado dispensaries located near the border sell to Nebraskans, Western Nebraska ends up paying the price for Colorado’s drug habit. For instance, Nebraskans often end up paying for the incarceration, the rehabilitation, and the welfare benefits of Colorado residents as well as our own residents who purchase the drug in Colorado; meanwhile, Colorado benefits from revenue generated from taxes placed on the sale of the marijuana. For these reasons and more, Nebraska Attorney General, Doug Peterson, has filed a lawsuit against the State of Colorado.

Common sense shows that using marijuana is just a bad choice for anyone to make. Many employers, for example, understand the harmful effects of marijuana’s use on the job, so they have begun testing for the drug during the hiring process and randomly thereafter. Colorado’s marijuana dispensaries mean that there are now fewer qualified job applicants living in Western Nebraska than there were just a few years ago.

When President Trump signed the farm bill last Thursday, he took hemp off the federal government’s list of controlled substances. Marijuana remains on that list of controlled substances. Hemp is a cousin of the marijuana plant, and is used to make a variety of products from rope to lotions. Cannabidiol or CBD, which can be derived from either the hemp plant or the marijuana plant, must have hemp-derived THC levels below three percent in order to be legal by federal standards, making it impractical for use as a recreational drug. However, CBD remains prohibited by Nebraska’s laws.

Nebraska’s Attorney General issued a memo on November 16, 2018 reminding state law enforcement agencies that CBD remains illegal in Nebraska. According to the memo CBD continues to be included in Nebraska’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act’s legal definition of “marijuana.” Only two exceptions exist to the state statute. The first exception allows UNMC to study the drug until October 2019. The second exception allows for the sale of CBD oil, which has been approved by the FDA. But, according to Chris Peterson, an investigator with the Lincoln and Lancaster County Narcotics Task Force, CBD oil has never been approved by the FDA. Peterson also told KLKN news in Lincoln that the product is “not as safe as it is being purported.” Therefore, my purpose in writing today is to remind Nebraskans that both marijuana and hemp remain prohibited substances by Nebraska State Statutes.

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