Nebraska activists are reviving their effort to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot.
As a reform bill from Sen. Anna Wishart (D) stalls in committee, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) submitted a pair of petitions to the secretary of state’s office on Thursday to get the 2024 ballot process underway.
This marks the campaign’s third attempt to have voters decided on medical cannabis legalization. Advocates collected enough signatures for ballot placement in 2020, but the measure was invalidated by the state Supreme Court following a single subject challenge. And they came up short on signatures for revised petitions amid a loss of critical funding in 2022.
“We have no choice but to keep petitioning our government,” Crista Eggers, co-chair of the NMM campaign, said in a press release. “The Legislature refuses to act despite the will of over 80 percent of Nebraskans (from all parties, regions, ages, etc) supporting this.”
“For over 10 years we’ve advocated, educated and fought, trying to do it the right way, though our elected leaders in the Unicameral, and every year we come up empty handed,” she said. “So we will go to the ballot once again.”
Wishart told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that the newly submitted petitions are “same as the language in 2022,” and they “will go through a process with the SOS in which they review legally.”
The senator’s medical cannabis bill received a hearing in the unicameral legislature’s Judiciary Committee in February, but it has not advanced. She attributes the inaction to turnover and changes in membership. An earlier version of the measure ultimately stalled out in the GOP-controlled legislature amid a filibuster that supporters could not overcome.
“Of course we are filing again,” Wishart said of the 2024 ballot effort. “The way to succeed is to never give up and every time we hit a setback we grow stronger.”
Today @NebraskaMJ is launching our ballot initiative to put the issue of medical cannabis legalization to the voters in 2024. We can’t stop and won’t stop until Nebraskans who are sick and suffering have access to this plant-based medicine. 💚 https://t.co/4VE9y5gi56
— Senator Anna Wishart (@NebraskaAnna) May 18, 2023
“We learned last year that we don’t have to wait on a major donor to be successful,” she said. “We were able to collect 180,000 signatures in virtually three months on a volunteer-led effort with a shoestring budget. Just think what we can do with over a year of collection.”
One initiative that the campaign submitted on Thursday would require lawmakers to codify protections for doctors who recommend cannabis and patients who purchase and possess it. The patient-focused initiative says that its aim is to “enact a statute that makes penalties inapplicable under state and local law for the use, possession, and acquisition of limited quantities of cannabis for medical purposes by a qualified patient with a written recommendation from a health care practitioner, and for a caregiver to assist a qualified patient in these activities.”
The other measure would create a new a Nebraska Medical Cannabis Commission to provide “necessary registration and regulation of persons that possess, manufacture, distribute, deliver, and dispense cannabis for medical purposes.”
That complementary proposals are meant to be narrowly focused to avoid a single subject challenge that derailed the earlier 2020 reform push.
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“Despite the disappointing 2020 single subject ruling by the Nebraska Supreme Court, it provided us a clear roadmap and clarity to refile a new initiative,” Adam Morfeld, NMM co-chair and a former Nebraska senator, said. “After close review of that decision we have crafted two new statutory initiatives that we are confident will pass constitutional muster.”
In order to make the November 2024 ballot, the campaign will need to collect about 87,000 valid signatures for each petition and turn them in by July 5, 2024.
Activists say that they are planning to launch a signature drive at the beginning of June.
After the medical cannabis setback in 2022, the campaign suggested that they might ultimately pursue an adult-use legalization initiative. But it appears that the strategy is currently focused on medical marijuana alone.
Read the text of the medical cannabis petitions below:
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.