Patient Advocates Oppose Confirmation of Nebraska Chief Medical Officer

Published on March 6, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
tall grass prairie at dawn, Homestead National Monument of America, Beatrice, Nebraska; Big Bluestem grass

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Medical marijuana advocates are urging Nebraska state senators not to confirm a chief medical officer who opposes the use of marijuana or any of its byproducts.

Dr. Thomas Williams has been serving as acting chief medical officer since November, and the Legislature could confirm his appointment following a Thursday vote from six of the seven members of the Health and Human Services Committee to recommend him. But advocates who want to see Nebraska become the 29th state to legalize medical marijuana contend Williams’ comments on legislation that would allow residents to use drugs containing a non-intoxicating compound found in marijuana shows a refusal to consider new treatment options.

“He is not educated on what this plant can do, and that is what's wrong with our senate.”

Marijuana in all forms is now a Schedule I drug in Nebraska, along with heroin and LSD. A bill sponsored by Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete would reschedule drugs containing cannabidiol that have been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration as Schedule V drugs, putting them on the same level as cough syrup. The measure advanced unanimously from the Judiciary Committee, which Ebke chairs, and is waiting on a vote from the full Legislature.

Ebke’s bill is specifically targeted at allowing Epidiolex, a nearly pure extract of cannabidiol that is designed to treat children’s seizures and is scheduled for FDA review this summer. Another bill scheduled for a committee hearing next week would allow medical marijuana in liquid and pill form.

Williams, in his role as acting chief medical officer and director of public health for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, wrote a letter urging the Judiciary Committee not to advance Ebke’s bill because the FDA has not yet approved any medical use of marijuana. There also is a “high potential for abuse of the drug,” he wrote.

The letter shows Williams is “completely uneducated” on research behind medical marijuana, said Josie Kranz of Nebraska Families 4 Medical Cannabis.

“We want someone who’s running HHS to be open to new treatments,” Kranz said.

Hastings resident Jane Stanley, a cannabis educator, said she plans to call every senator urging them not to approve Williams’ appointment. She said appointing an anti-marijuana chief medical officer would delay Nebraska residents’ access to medicine that could help them.

“He is not educated on what this plant can do, and that is what’s wrong with our senate,” she said.

Williams through a DHHS spokeswoman declined an interview and said he and Gov. Pete Ricketts oppose efforts to legalize medical marijuana.

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