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Several states across the country have allowed various forms of marijuana in defiance of federal law and at great risk to public health. This week, the Nebraska Legislature will debate LB 110, a proposal to legalize marijuana under the guise of medicine. This proposal would put Nebraska on a path toward liberalizing our drug laws, which in many states has already resulted in recreational marijuana. As Senators get ready to debate this issue, here are five of the top problems with legalizing marijuana in Nebraska.

Public Health: The United States has the best system of medicine in the world that helps protect public health. Here in Nebraska, the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) is one of the top medical schools in the nation. UNMC has conducted research supporting successful clinical trials for Epidiolex, a cannabidiol derivative from marijuana recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat seizures. Legislative approval of marijuana, instead of clinical trials, circumvents this system of modern medicine, putting public health at risk. Furthermore, doctors and pharmacists aren’t able to prescribe drugs like marijuana as a treatment because they are not federally approved and dosing and drug interactions remain unknown.

Mental Health: There’s another reason why we should rely on clinical trials when considering marijuana’s impacts: mental health. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana has been linked to temporary hallucinations, temporary paranoia, “depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among teens.” Research in recent years showing the negative impacts of marijuana is confirming why this drug deserves expert medical review. From the New England Journal of Medicine to Northwestern Medicine, research is revealing that marijuana has harmful impacts on brain function and emotional health including schizophrenia and psychosis among others. Right now, scientists at the Boys Town National Research Hospital are studying the impact of marijuana on the brain function of kids. We need this research, and clinical trials, to understand whether there’s any medical value to marijuana—and what the downsides are. It’s especially important since marijuana is significantly more potent than it was a few decades ago, increasing mental health risks.

Physical Safety: Marijuana proponents will often say that no one has died from using it. This is not true. In Colorado, traffic deaths involving people who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled between 2013 and 2017. Every 2.5 days, someone dies in Colorado due to a marijuana-related traffic accident. You also may have read in the news about other marijuana-related deaths. Levi Pongi, age 19, died after consuming a marijuana cookie and jumping off a balcony. Marc Bullard, age 23, committed suicide after he began using a concentrated form of marijuana. He had no previous history of depression. These stories reflect data from Colorado showing that the number of youth suicides with marijuana present has tripled in 10 years.

Drug Abuse: You will hear marijuana proponents often say that marijuana is not a gateway drug. Research proves this wrong. The American Journal of Psychiatry and the Journal of Addiction Medicine have found that marijuana users are at twice the risk of abusing opioids. Nebraska has been a leader in combating opioid abuse, and legalizing marijuana would be a big step backwards from the great work that has earned Nebraska the distinction of being the least opioid-addicted state in the nation.

Black Market: With the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Nebraska has seen an explosion of black market marijuana and related products coming through our state. Marijuana supporters try to argue that black markets go away with legalization. This is false. Take for example the case of Missouri, which legalized “medical” marijuana last November. By February, Missouri was flooded with marijuana candy that was packaged to market to kids. For example “Stoney Patch Kids” are packaged like Sour Patch Kids. In Florida, five children overdosed on gummy bears laced with THC after a 12-year-old handed them out to a class. Many kids who encounter this kind of product won’t have the skill to discern what is candy and what contains marijuana or its derivatives. Furthermore, during drug busts, it’s not uncommon for our troopers to uncover harder drugs or weapons when marijuana or related products are being trafficked.

During debate on LB 110 this week, supporters of marijuana are sure to argue that Nebraska can just bring it here for medical purposes without moving towards recreational use. This is a fantasy. Once the marijuana industry puts roots down here, Nebraska will be under pressure to legalize recreational use. If you’d like to call your Senator and let them know you oppose bringing marijuana to Nebraska, please visit www.NebraskaLegislature.gov. To contact me, please email pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.

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Pete Ricketts is the governor of Nebraska.

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