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Nebraska Activists Meet ‘Raw’ Signature Goal For Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiatives As Campaign Makes Final Push



Nebraska activists say that they’ve collected the minimum amount of “raw” signatures needed to qualify a pair of medical marijuana legalization initiatives for the November ballot—but they’re making a final push to gather about 5,000 more before the turn-in deadline on Thursday to ensure that enough of the petitions are valid to make the cut.

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) has faced an uphill battle to put the reform issue before voters, especially after losing critical campaign funding earlier this year. Activists were relieved when a federal court sided them in a lawsuit challenging a restrictive ballot requirement, but the pressure to collect enough signatures with limited resources has been intense.

It appears that the campaign’s work to rally supporters is paying off, with NMM co-chair Sen. Anna Wishart (D) announcing on Wednesday morning that an “overwhelming number of Nebraskans have turned out and signed our petitions in the last ten days.”

“As of early Wednesday morning, we are hovering around the raw number of 87,000 required signatures,” she said. “At least 5,000 more Nebraskans need to go out TODAY and sign to push us over the required amount and assure we have the necessary signatures to succeed.”

“Don’t wake up on July 8th asking what more you could have done to help save a life.”

Meeting the raw signature count is far from a guarantee that the campaign will prevail in its effort to get medical cannabis reform on the ballot. As a general rule, activists seeking ballot qualification on any issue aim to get a sizable buffer in the event that a certain fraction of signatures are deemed invalid by the state.

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Wednesday will prove pivotal to that end, and advocates are geared up to collect as many additional signatures as possible over the next 24 hours.

“From now until noon tomorrow, Thursday, July 7th, we need everyone to go and find a petition to sign,” Crista Eggers, NMM campaign manager, said. “Nebraskans hold the power to bring this across the finish line, so that suffering patients in our state finally have the option of medical cannabis. Please, go sign. If not for your own family, for the many families who are suffering without access to this life saving treatment.”

The Nebraska Democratic Party, as well as the state chapter of the ACLU, are supporting the reform effort and encouraging people to take advantage of the limited time to sign the petitions.

NMM announced in May that it was restructuring its plan to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot after losing key funding. The campaign had aimed to raise $1 million so that it could hire paid signature canvassers, but after the death of one key donor and terminal diagnosis of another, the campaign is left with just about $30,000 on hand.

Supporters held a virtual press conference that month to detail their new plan to qualify a pair of cannabis initiatives for the November ballot.

One initiative would require lawmakers to codify protections for doctors who recommend cannabis and patients who purchase and possess it. The other would mandate legislative action to safeguard marijuana businesses that supply the product.

The reason that the measures are narrowly tailored and bifurcated is because activists want to avoid the type of legal challenge that led the state Supreme Court to invalidate a prior medical cannabis legalization measure that they successfully collected more than enough signatures for to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

The court ruled that year that the initiative violated the single-subject rule for ballot measures because it took a comprehensive approach to setting regulations for the program.

For each of the new 2022 initiatives, activists will need to collect about 87,000 valid signatures.

Lawmakers attempted to advance medical cannabis reform legislatively last year, but while the unicameral legislature debated a bill to legalize medical marijuana in May, it failed to advance past a filibuster because the body didn’t have enough votes to overcome it.

Meanwhile, the campaign is also facing resistance from Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), a staunch opponent of legalization. Late last year, he partnered with the prohibitionist group SAM Nebraska on an ad urging residents to oppose cannabis reform in the state.

For his part, Nebraska’s attorney general argued in an opinion in 2019 that efforts to legalize medical marijuana legislatively in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”

Here’s the state of play for other drug policy reform ballot measures in 2022: 

Oklahoma activists said on Tuesday that they’ve submitted what they believe to be more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot.

Maryland lawmakers passed legislation this year, which the governor allowed to go into effect without his signature, that will put the issue of cannabis legalization before voters this November.

In May, South Dakota officials certified that activists turned in a sufficient number of signatures earlier this month to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the November ballot.

Advocates in Missouri have turned in more than double the amount of signatures needed to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the ballot.

North Dakota activists recently cleared a procedural hurdle to start collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state.

Colorado activists announced last week that they have submitted what they believe to be more than enough signatures to place a measure on the state’s ballot that would legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin “healing centers” where people can use the substance for therapeutic purposes. A competing psychedelic reform campaign is still gathering signatures for a competing, more simplified measure.

An initiative to legalize marijuana will not appear on Ohio’s November ballot, the campaign behind the measure announced in May. But activists did reach a settlement with state officials in a legal challenge that will give them a chance to hit the ground running in 2023.

Michigan activists announced last month that they will no longer be pursuing a statewide psychedelics legalization ballot initiative for this year’s election and will instead focus on qualifying the measure to go before voters in 2024.

The campaign behind an effort to decriminalize drugs and expand treatment and recovery services in Washington State said that last month that it has halted its push to qualify an initiative for November’s ballot.

While Wyoming activists said earlier this year that they made solid progress in collecting signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize medical cannabis, they didn’t get enough to make the 2022 ballot deadline and will be aiming for 2024 while simultaneously pushing the legislature to advance reform even sooner.

In March, California activists announced that they came up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.

Meanwhile, there are various local reforms that activists want to see voters decide on this November—including local marijuana decriminalization ordinances in OhioWest Virginia and Texas.

Bipartisan Lawmakers File Even More Marijuana And Psychedelics Reform Amendments To Defense Bill

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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