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Angela Thomas

Courtesy photo

McCOOK, Neb. — When it comes to pain medication, there are other options besides heavy duty opiates, said a local volunteer for a petition drive to legalize medical marijuana in Nebraska.

Angela Thomas of McCook is one of hundreds of unpaid volunteers with “Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws,” gathering signatures across the state to place the proposed constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. A total of 130,000 signatures are needed by July 2020 from at least 38 of Nebraskan’s 93 counties, with about 15,000 collected so far.

A grandmother and retired small business owner, Thomas believes legalizing medical marijuana is a no-brainer that’s long overdue. “We can help so many people in chronic pain who feel no one is listening to them. Medical marijuana is a valid treatment for pain management, without the extreme side effects of opiate drugs,” she said. The measure would allow patients to use medical cannabis as recommended by their doctor and create a regulated system for producers, testing laboratories, and dispensaries to enable safe access to medical cannabis products.

But the law would not open it up “for everyone to get high,” Thomas clarified. Much like alcohol consumption, restrictions would prohibit the smoking of medical cannabis in public or driving under the influence of cannabis. In addition, employers would not be obligated to accommodate the use of medical cannabis at the workplace and insurance providers would not be required to provide coverage for medical cannabis.

Rather, medical marijuana would offer a replacement for opiates and other strong pharmaceutical drugs used in medical treatments and pain management. It would also allow patients and doctors to decide on the best course of treatment, instead of the government, Thomas said.

Although still illegal on the federal level, that doesn’t mean the government isn’t looking into the use of medical marijuana.Thomas pointed to research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that is conducting clinical trials using medical marijuana for multiple sclerosis, inflammation, pain, cancer-induced nausea and seizures. The FDA has already approved two medications with synthetically produced canniboids to treat nausea and boost appetite.

Thomas recalls how her mother, while being treated for cancer, was prescribed oxycotin and other powerful drugs that wreaked havoc on her body. “Until you know someone in chronic pain, you have no idea how much they suffer,” she said.

Medical marijuana is already legal in 34 states and Washington, D.C., including conservative states such as Oklahoma and South Carolina. The movement has been gaining steam, with even AARP supporting the use of medical marijuana and further research.

There’s no statistical evidence showing that legalized medical marijuana has led to more criminal activity, Thomas said. Instead, with the legalization, law enforcement can focus on more pressing issues, such as crime due to methamphetamine use.

For Thomas, it comes down to the will of the people. “Let the people of Nebraska decide if they want it,” she said. “There are more options out there other than Big Pharma.”

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