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Board can’t reclassify marijuana

September 18, 2010

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By Paul Hammel

Published Wednesday September 15, 2010

LINCOLN — Proponents of legalizing marijuana for medical use will have to look elsewhere to sell their message.

The Nebraska Board of Pharmacy decided Monday that it lacked the authority to reclassify marijuana as a drug that could be legally prescribed.

That is a decision for a federal agency such as the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Food and Drug Administration, said Rick Zarek, a Gothenburg, Neb., pharmacist who heads the State Pharmacy Board.

“There’s nothing the Board of Pharmacy can do as long as it’s listed as a Schedule 1 drug and ineligible for dispensing,” Zarek said.

Schedule 1 drugs, by federal law, cannot be prescribed because they are potentially addictive and have no medical use.

In July, proponents of medical marijuana packed a hearing room in Lincoln and told the Pharmacy Board that cannabis use has several benefits, including relieving chronic pain, improving the appetites of those in cancer treatment and helping sufferers of multiple sclerosis.

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., has advocated the use of medical marijuana to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The Pharmacy Board voted 5-0 during a meeting Monday in Omaha.

Ralph Smith, a Louisville, Neb., attorney who has advocated legalization in both Iowa and Nebraska, said the board probably does lack the legal authority. But he had hoped it would recommend to the Legislature that marijuana be reclassified.

Smith said he has been talking with state senators about introducing a bill during the next session, which begins in January. An initiative petition drive, to get the issue before Nebraska voters in 2012, also is planned.

“It’s coming. Medical cannabis will be in Nebraska. It’s just a matter of when and how many hours humans will suffer between now and then,” he said.

Medicinal marijuana is now legal in 14 states, including Colorado, as well as in the District of Columbia.

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended in February that marijuana be legalized for medical use. But the issue has stalled. Smith said, however, that he does expect a bill to be introduced in the 2011 Iowa legislative session to legalize medical marijuana.

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