LINCOLN — As his wife was slowly dying from cancer, Craig, Neb., farmer DeJay Monson turned to something that had helped him overcome seizures and migraine headaches arising from a childhood school-bus accident.
Feeding his wife, Dana, marijuana, baked in foods or infused in liquids, returned some function to her life, Monson said Monday, fighting back tears.
The pot was much more effective than morphine and other drugs she was given for the pain, he said. According to Monson, the growth of the massive tumors in his wife’s chest slowed considerably, allowing her to live longer and enjoy her five children before she died this spring.
“It didn’t take her pain away, but it took her away from the pain,” Monson said. “I pray you don’t need to have a spouse get sick to find that out.”
He was among a dozen people who asked the Nebraska Board of Pharmacy on Monday to reclassify marijuana so it can be prescribed as a medicine.
Those testifying included a medical doctor, a lawyer, one of the original Yippies from the 1960s and an Iowa trucker wearing a “Reverend Reefer” T-shirt.
They urged Nebraska to join 14 other states that allow medicinal marijuana to relieve pain and ease the symptoms of diseases such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
“What’s so hard to understand? If God put it here, we should use it,” said trucker Terry Mitchell of Des Moines, who wore the “Reverend Reefer” shirt. He said he smokes marijuana three times a day to relieve back pain.
But three of five members on the pharmacy board said their role was purely advisory. They said supporters of legalization would be better off lobbying the Nebraska Legislature or federal drug agencies to change marijuana’s classification from a Schedule 1 drug that has no medical use.
“That would have to change first before we could take any action,” said board member Kevin Borcher, an Omaha pharmacist.
Some supporters disputed that, pointing to Iowa, where the State Pharmacy Board issued a recommendation earlier this year to legalize medicinal marijuana.
Two members of Nebraska’s pharmacy panel, Robert Marshall of Norfolk and Tom Walsh of Lincoln, said they were willing to take a look at the mountain of pro-cannabis materials presented to the board and decide in a few months whether a recommendation should be made.
Ralph Smith, a Louisville, Neb., attorney and a director for a pro-medicinal pot group, Patients Out of Time, said the hot-button issue would require a citizen-sponsored ballot initiative to be adopted in Nebraska.
Smith said ballot language is already being prepared in hopes of getting the issue on the ballot in 2012.
“The cat’s out of the bag,” Smith said. “People know it can help them.”
Bill Hawkins, director of HEMP Nebraska, said state senators have told him privately it would be “political suicide” to introduce a bill, even though many admit that it has positive qualities.
None of the 50 people attending Monday’s meeting spoke in opposition to medicinal marijuana, though Pharmacy Board Chairman Rick Zarek, a Gothenburg pharmacist, said his colleagues in other states have reported problems with legalization.
Medical marijuana dispensaries have exploded in number in the 14 states that allow it since President Obama announced last fall that federal officials will no longer prosecute medical marijuana users and dispensaries that follow state laws.
States such as Colorado are beginning to draft new regulations to restrict the growth of dispensaries and crack down on physicians who provide exams for people seeking permits to buy marijuana.
Those testifying Monday said marijuana is a natural, non-harmful substance that can provide relief from pain that other, more powerful drugs cannot. Some urged legalization of pot for social use, an issue on the ballot in California this fall.
Timothy Herman, 52, a native of Frontier County, Neb., and a Navy veteran, said smoking pot three times a day helps him forget the bursitis pain in his shoulder and get a good night’s sleep.
“Freedom seems to me to allow an adult to choose their medication,” said Herman, who now lives in Portland, Ore. He works for THCF Medical Clinics, which screens patients in Oregon and other states to obtain licenses to buy medical marijuana.
Dr. Alan Worth of Lincoln said marijuana would address his multiple sclerosis symptoms. He said former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has advocated its use to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Borcher said most studies he has read about the topic say more research is needed on whether marijuana is effective medicine.
Smith disputed that, saying he’s seen “miracles” caused by cannabis among those facing terminal illnesses.
“Amen,” added Monson.