It’s quite likely you’ll soon see petition circulators who want to make Nebraska the 34th state to authorize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

They’ll say, as they have in other states, that marijuana belongs with other drugs deemed to have beneficial uses — despite varying levels of addiction risks — if patients only use them as prescribed.

Federal law still disagrees, despite the protracted cultural campaign since the 1960s to make weed as socially acceptable and openly available as alcohol and tobacco.

What if the feds are wrong?

Valid question. But so is the opposite: What if they’re right?

A society in which personal desires take a back seat to health and safety — both for users and those who encounter them — would insist on the same type of rigorous, scientifically based approval process applied to other prescribed drugs.

Opponents of broader marijuana use might or might not accept a positive finding from such a study.

But we don’t see weed’s proponents ever accepting “no.”

One might ask recovering drug addicts whether marijuana proved their “gateway drug” to harder drugs. But one related item has proved a gateway to broader use of weed: medical marijuana proposals themselves.

Every one of the 11 states that has legalized recreational use of marijuana — in defiance of federal law — approved medical marijuana first.

That includes our neighbors in Colorado, some of whom keep the courts in our western Nebraska counties busy from their brazen hauling of weed across the state line.

Is any of this the fault of people who suffer personally, or watch their loved ones suffer, from chronic pain or other maladies that they believe marijuana can relieve?

No. It’s not.

Nonetheless, those who want to openly use and buy weed have used medical marijuana as a wedge to get their way in state after state. And they’ll keep doing it.

Is it responsible to throw up our hands and simply, in the name of unfettered liberty, leave people who use potentially addictive substances — and those they encounter — to their fate?

The ill-fated history of alcohol Prohibition, temporarily added to the U.S. Constitution a century ago this year, usually comes up at about this point.

If people are bound to do something, it’s said, you might legally regulate it — but Prohibition shows you can’t stop it.

Nebraska proponents of medical marijuana tried that tack this past session with Legislative Bill 110. The bill would impose regulations much stricter, proponents warn, than the petition proposal now being floated on street corners.

One wonders why the petition proposal doesn’t include the same regimen. But we digress.

No, one can’t fully prevent the abuse of alcohol or drugs. Or gambling, prostitution or human trafficking (slavery, that is).

So why do we outlaw or regulate them? Consider our own region’s early history.

Prohibition triumphed, though temporarily, because many well-meaning pioneers and their children saw it as a necessary step to “civilization.”

They remembered the general lawlessness — typified by free-flowing liquor, gambling, prostitution and the violence all three could fuel — that followed the Union Pacific Railroad construction crews or waited for the cowboys driving cattle to U.P. railheads.

“Hell on Wheels,” which counted North Platte and Julesburg among its temporary homes, makes a great backdrop for local celebrations. Ditto for Ogallala, the “Gomorrah of the Cattle Trails.”

Living permanently with their anarchy and violence was another question entirely.

So the pioneers and their descendants reined in one destructive behavior after another, all the way to 1919 — after which the pendulum started swinging the other way.

One can conclude from both pioneer and recent history that we must, at the very least, restrict substances that subject the innocent to unacceptable risks when neighbors or strangers abuse them.

We’ve done that with alcohol since Prohibition. We must continue to do so with drugs, prescribed or otherwise. For proof, consider the never-ending procession through Nebraska’s district courts of violent crimes with drug abuse as an unquestioned underlying cause.

Fairly or unfairly, Nebraskans can count on a future push to allow recreational marijuana if they approve medical marijuana on their November 2020 ballot.

Don’t judge either question — or any ballot question, on any topic — on other states’ peer pressure. It’s up to us to responsibly weigh weed’s purported benefits for some, along with any potential dangers to themselves and others.

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