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Limited medical marijuana study gets initial OK

By Zach Pluhacek | May 19, 2015 12:30 pm

The less controversial of two medical marijuana bills being considered by Nebraska lawmakers this year received overwhelming support Monday during its first appearance before the full Legislature.

Sen. Sue Crawford says her bill (LB390), while more limited in scope than a measure sponsored by fellow Bellevue Sen. Tommy Garrett, would allow people with life-threatening epilepsy to receive treatment more quickly.

The soonest Garrett's bill (LB643) could go into effect, if passed by lawmakers, would be July 2016. Regulatory complications could push that as far back as the following December.

Crawford's bill would take effect almost immediately, assuming it gains support from 33 senators, the number required to pass a bill with an emergency clause.

That's how many senators voted to advance the bill to a second round of debate Monday.

The measure would allow doctors at the University of Nebraska Medical Center to treat patients with intractable epilepsy using cannabidiol, a substance extracted from the marijuana plant that is known to help ease the frequency and severity of seizures with minimal side effects.

The study would mostly focus on children, but adults could also qualify. Crawford's bill doesn't specify the number of potential patients; that figure would largely be determined by how much cannabidiol UNMC is able to acquire.

"This product is in very high demand," Crawford said. "They want to treat as many people as they can given their capacity."

GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company, has acquired FDA approval for the kind of cannabidiol allowed under the proposed study, which must be low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the substance that produces the marijuana high. Local doctors are also working with another company that is seeking FDA approval.

While her bill doesn't require the cannabidiol, or CBD, to come from an FDA-approved vendor, Crawford said UNMC wants to be cautious.

Using FDA-approved CBD would also add a layer of legal protection for people living on military bases or crossing state lines with their doctor-prescribed CBD, Crawford said.

The measure has senators' broad support, but medical marijuana proponents outside the Legislature raised concerns about its limited scope.

Omaha Sen. Merv Riepe, who opposes both medical marijuana bills, said he wore out his shoes being called out to the Capitol lobby by people who want the drug but wouldn't qualify for the UNMC study or whose cases might not be considered severe enough.

"What about the ones that don't get selected?" he said.

Riepe was the only senator to oppose the bill Monday, calling it "needless duplication" of studies being conducted in other states.

Ten states have adopted similar legislation in recent years.

Garrett said Crawford's bill is complementary to his own, providing immediate help to people most in need.

The version of the bill advanced Monday also includes an amendment adding components of two other bills, LB546 and LB326, sponsored by Sens. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln and Matt Williams of Gothenburg.

Williams' piece would add more substances to the state's ban on synthetic marijuana, or K2. Morfeld's component would allow first responders to administer Naloxone to people suffering drug overdoses.

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