Is it a dangerous move that could lead to harmful societal problems in the future?
Or is it a sign of human compassion for those suffering from pain and medical issues?
Those two questions — and many others — are likely to be the focus of discussion next month when 2019’s first community conversation tackles the medical marijuana issue.
Sponsored by the Daily News, Northeast Community College and Calmwater Financial Group of Norfolk, the event is set for Monday, March 11, at 5:30 p.m. at the Cox Activities Center theater on the Northeast campus. Open to the public, the event will run until 7 p.m.
Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln is one of two primary sponsors of Legislative Bill 110 that would, if passed, allow marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes. Numerous restrictions and safeguards are included in the legislative proposal.
Nonetheless, Gov. Pete Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson and numerous law enforcement representatives are among those who have opposed the bill. They cite fears that, among other concerns, passage could serve as a pathway to greater drug usage in Nebraska.
If the bill does not survive this session in the Legislature, its sponsors also are working on a petition issue that, if successful, would place the same issue on an upcoming ballot for Nebraskans to vote on.
The goal of the March 11 community conversation is designed to share information and opinions on all sides of this issue, and allow those in attendance to interact with three special guests — Wishart, Luke Niforatos and Ally Dering-Anderson — who will participate.
Prior to being elected to office, Wishart worked at the Legislature for six years as a staff member. She also has run several advocacy and legislative campaigns. In 2011, she was elected to the Lincoln Airport Authority and served as its chairwoman.
She was elected to the Legislature in 2016 and serves on the Appropriations Committee. She works as director of partnerships at Beyond School Bells, a coalition aimed at improving access to quality afterschool and summer school program for students.
Niforatos serves as the chief of staff and senior policy advisor at Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). The Alexandria, Va.-based non-profit organization’s mission is “to educate citizens on the science of marijuana and to promote health-first, smart policies and attitudes that decrease marijuana use and its consequences.”
In his role with SAM, Niforatos presides over strategic federal, state, and educational initiatives. He previously spent his career working in nonprofit community healthcare. Having lived in Colorado during legalization of marijuana there, Niforatos said he has seen firsthand the disastrous effects of lax marijuana policies.
Dering-Anderson is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice & Science at the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Pharmacy. She coordinates and teaches the law and ethics classes at the college.
She is serving as the president this year of the Nebraska Pharmacists Association, and has spoken nationally and internationally on pharmacy topics.
The Daily News — with partners CalmWater Financial Group and Northeast Community College — regularly sponsors community conversations on issues of public interest. Kent Warneke, editor of the News, will serve as moderator of the event.