NE: Legal Marijuana Advocates Have New Ally In Lancaster County Public Defender


Omaha – Attorney General Doug Peterson quickly found himself thrust into the role of Nebraska’s highest-profile opponent of legal marijuana when he took office last year.

Now a fellow elected official is publicly opposing him – arguing not only to allow medical cannabis, but to decriminalize pot entirely in Nebraska and to regulate its distribution.

“I’m not advocating the use of marijuana,” Lancaster County Public Defender Joe Nigro said Thursday. “I simply take the position that prohibition has failed, and we shouldn’t treat a health issue in the criminal justice system.”

Nigro’s comments came during a forum with Peterson hosted by Nebraska’s chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

It wasn’t a major stage: About 25 people paid to hear the remarks in a conference room at Omaha’s Ramada Plaza. But Nigro, also in his second year of elected office, said he’ll repeat his message to anyone who asks.

He also criticized Peterson – who had already left the forum – for continuing to pursue legal action with Oklahoma against Colorado over its marijuana policies.

“You’re being silly,” Nigro said. “Every lawyer I know thought this lawsuit was the biggest joke they ever heard.”

Peterson later defended the lawsuit, saying in an email that the effort is backed by all nine former administrators of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, who served presidents from both political parties. Two U.S. Supreme Court justices also supported allowing the case to proceed before the nation’s high court.

The other justices disagreed, and Peterson’s office has since brought the issue before a lower federal court.

Nigro argues legalization could shift resources for marijuana enforcement from the criminal justice system toward regulation, and that taxing cannabis would generate millions in revenue for schools, other law enforcement, and mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.

Marijuana enforcement unfairly targets non-white people, particularly blacks, Nigro said, and many of the historical circumstances which led to the “demonization” and banning of marijuana in the U.S. were rooted in political calculations and bias against non-white people.

Nigro, a Democrat, and Peterson, a Republican, both grew up in the 1970s, but that experience left them with starkly contrasting perspectives on marijuana.

Peterson contends pot is more potent now, because legalization in other states has led to competition and the rise of “Big Marijuana.”

“When you bring free-market forces into the impairment industry, what is the goal? You won’t find any advertisements about flavor, aroma,” he told the social workers. “It’s all about potency.”

Pot from those states – along with edible products or concentrated forms of cannabis like “hash,” “way,” “dab” and “shatter” – are now flooding Nebraska and raising the stakes for gangs and law enforcement, Peterson said.

Higher potency doesn’t make marijuana more addictive or cause overdoses, Nigro argued.

“If it did we would hear about those kinds of incidents nonstop, but we don’t.”

Four states have already legalized marijuana for recreational use. Five more, including California, will vote on this issue in November.

“I just don’t see us going back,” Nigro said. “I think this trend is going to continue.”

Peterson doesn’t recall anyone asking him about marijuana while he was campaigning for attorney general.

But his predecessor’s decision to begin pursuing the lawsuit against Colorado, along with a well-documented battle in the Legislature over medical marijuana, have turned the fight against pot legalization into one of the defining issues of his term.

“I don’t want to ignore it and have the mentality be: Gee, we all did it, no one died, so it’s no big deal,” Peterson said.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Legal Marijuana Advocates Have New Ally In Lancaster County Public Defender
Author: Zach Pluhacek
Contact: (402) 473-7306
Photo Credit: John Munson
Website: Lincoln Journal Star