Marijuana and Nebraska – The Laws Remain the Same

Omaha attorney Dan Stockmann spends his time “almost exclusively’ defending people targeted by law enforcement for transporting marijuana across the state. (Photo by Don Shepard/Don Shepard Photography)
Andy Roberts
The Daily Record

Call it marijuana, herb, tree, weed, Mary Jane, or any of the other names for hemp that is dried and then smoked.

Just make sure you call it illegal in Nebraska.

Of course, just one state west, in Colorado, call it party time. Marijuana, even for recreational purposes, is legal.

But whatever you do, don’t bring it across the state line and get caught with it in Nebraska.

NORML – the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – is working to change weed’s status.

The aim of NORML, an American non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, is to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the legalization of nonmedical marijuana in the United States so that the responsible use of cannabis by adults is no longer subject to penalty.

According to their website, NORML “supports the removal of all criminal penalties for the private possession and responsible use of marijuana by adults, including the cultivation for personal use, and the casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts,” and “supports the development of a legally controlled market for cannabis.” NORML and the NORML Foundation support “both those fighting prosecution under marijuana laws and those working to legalize marijuana.”

Others, such as the governor and the attorney general, are not on the same team.

Omaha attorney Dan Stockmann spent a decade in the Douglas County Public Defender’s Office and another five years doing general criminal defense work in the Omaha area. Today he is one of seven attorneys on the NORML Legal Committee, not employed by the organization but ready to defend people suspected of breaking the state’s marijuana laws.

“My work now almost exclusively consists of defending people who have been targeted by law enforcement as they travel across Nebraska,” Stockmann stated.

Most, if not all, of those clients live somewhere other than in Nebraska and simply were passing through the state on their way home.

“Law enforcement in Nebraska has increased its presence on the I-80 and is spending more time than ever before on “Interstate drug interdiction,’” he said. That has resulted in more arrests for marijuana- based offenses along the I-80 corridor.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson declined to speculate on when or if the state’s marijuana laws might change. Stockmann pointed out efforts have been undertaken in recent years to pass a medical marijuana law, but to no avail.

“There have also been efforts to get the issue on the ballot and let voters decide,” Stockmann said. “Polling suggests that if a medical marijuana law was to be on the ballot, voters would pass it fairly easily.”

Cannabis oil is legal under certain circumstances in Iowa under a bill signed last year by then-Gov. Terry Branstad. Products that can be smoked or eaten remain banned, and the amount of THC – the drug’s active ingredient – is limited.

NORML makes it clear where the long-time pro-marijuana organization stands. Its website points to claims that the Drug War has created a “U.S. prison population that is six to ten times as high as most Western European nations.”

NORML goes on to say: “The United States is a close second only to Russia in its rate of incarceration per 100,000 people. In 2012, more than 749,000 people were arrested in this country for marijuana-related offenses alone.”

The pro-marijuana organization went on to state its belief that marijuana prohibition creates more problems than it solves which leads to the needless arrest of “hundreds of thousands” of citizens who otherwise have no problems with the law.

Which doesn’t mean Colorado’s legalization went over well.

In 2014, Nebraska’s then-Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma’s A.G., Scott Pruitt, sued Colorado over its legalization of marijuana and the problems marijuana sales were causing neighboring states. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 2016, declined to hear the case.

Attorney General Peterson pointed out that, while the lawsuit no longer is pending, the court’s refusal to hear the suit changed nothing in Nebraska.

“Marijuana remains illegal under federal law,” Peterson emphasized. “Unless and until that changes, the Attorney General’s view is that state legalization schemes are likewise illegal.”

Congress has not acted to change federal laws in the wake of the state decisions, and Stockmann said he had no answer for that inaction. President Trump has said they he will support a “federalism-based legislative solution to fix the states’ rights issue.”

Stockmann added he doesn’t see a local U.S. Attorney bringing federal charges against a medical marijuana patient for simple possession, but on the local level, at least in Nebraska, it frequently happens.

“Law enforcement in Nebraska does not factor in the motivation for a person carrying a user amount of a marijuana product,” he said. “I have had several out of state medical marijuana clients facing prosecution for felony drug offenses simply because they brought their prescription with them as they were traveling through Nebraska.”

Peterson doesn’t see anything happening to make medical marijuana legal in Nebraska in the near future.

“Any legalization would need to be lead out by the medical field supported by robust study, under DEA licensing, with FDA approval,” the attorney general stated. “Currently, efforts to legalize medical marijuana appear to be driven by the industry.”

The state’s anti-marijuana position helps define Stockmann’s role as it relates to NORML, which he said is to assist people who are not Nebraska residents but find themselves arrested and jailed here.

“They are scared of going to jail in a place unfamiliar to them and far from their family and friends,” he shared. “They are scared of losing their job and their life as they know it. All for possessing a substance that is legal in eight states recreationally and medically in 29.”

With that he also provided some free legal advice.

“Don’t bring it to Nebraska or you will face prosecution for a drug offense,” Stockmann offered. “If you happen to buy a user amount of a hash product or edible marijuana, you will face prosecution for a felony offense in Nebraska punishable by 0-2 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine.”

That makes marijuana, still, an expensive – and illegal – form of recreation in Nebraska.


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