DAKOTA CITY, Neb. | Tommy Garrett said people shouldn't get the wrong impression when they see his hair pulled into a pony tail and learn he backs the legalization of medical marijuana.
Garrett, a Nebraska state senator from Bellevue, traveled to Dakota City Wednesday to rally support for his bill to legalize the use of marijuana by people with certain debilitating conditions.
"You might think I'm a stoner," Garrett said, noting that he's never consumed marijuana. "I'm about as straight as they come."
Two Nebraska residents joined Garrett in a press conference at the Dakota County Courthouse to encourage people to prod lawmakers to pass the bill Garrett has led. Marijuana is a federally illegal drug, but some states have passed measures so people can use cannabis for relief from pain.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson and some lawmakers have criticized it as a slippery slope toward recreational use of the drug.
Garrett introduced a medical marijuana bill, LB643, in 2015, but he tabled it in May in order to get more support. Garrett will work the bill again in 2016.
State Sen. Dave Bloomfield, of Hoskins, whose district includes Dakota County and some other areas of Northeast Nebraska, voted in support of the bill on a procedural step before it was tabled. Bloomfield was not at Wednesday's event.
Garrett's bill laid out that the cannabis could be ingested as a liquid, pill, or liquid vapor, but could not be smoked. The bill specified use of medical marijuana for people with such conditions as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette syndrome, severe muscle spasms, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Hepatitis C or a terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than one year.
"Medical cannabis has efficacy against a number of diseases," Garrett said.
Shari Lawlor, of Valley, Neb., spoke about how her daughter, Brooke, age 22, has had debilitating seizures and other conditions since age 2. Lawlor said 15 medical drugs haven't worked for Brooke, and the family has been paying $34,000 annually for medicines.
"We just want an opportunity," Lawlor said. "We see it as a medicine, not as a crime."
She said doctors have painted some tough medical options ahead, including possible brain surgery for Brooke. Lawlor said Brooke and other Nebraskans should have the option of a "God-given natural plant."
Benjamin Marksmeier, a veteran from Fremont, Neb., lost the lower part of his right leg in a 2006 explosion in Iraq. He said he has "incurable pain" and doesn't like the hodge podge of medicines that haven't given relief.
Marksmeier said he's ingested cannabis illegally in Nebraska, which he said has greatly helped. He knows the law, but posed the question: "Would I rather be legally dead or illegally alive?"
Garrett said people like Marksmeier shouldn't have to break the law or move to a state where medical use of marijuana is legal.
"It breaks our heart when we see God-fearing, law-abiding Nebraskans who are desperate," Garrett said.