Voters in Nebraska could get the chance to make their state the next to legalize medical marijuana through a campaign that activists and lawmakers launched on Tuesday.
The move to put a cannabis question on the state’s November 2020 ballot comes about two weeks after a state Senate committee held a lengthy hearing on a bill to allow medical marijuana at which several people testified about the therapeutic benefits of the drug for a wide range of conditions.
Lawmakers in Lincoln for several years have introduced medical cannabis bills that have not advanced to passage, which is why advocates are now pursuing the ballot measure, the text of which they are formally filing with the state on Tuesday.
“Our legislature has been given multiple opportunities to legalize medical marijuana over the past five years and help relieve suffering for Nebraskans with serious medical conditions,” Sen. Anna Wishart (D), who is co-chairing the ballot campaign in addition to sponsoring legislation, said in an email.
If her colleagues decline to pass this year’s version of the bill, she said, “it is essential that Nebraskans have an opportunity to vote on this issue on the 2020 ballot, which is why we have formed a ballot campaign committee and are filing ballot language today.”
Sen. Adam Morfelt (D), who is also supporting the push, added that the ballot measure “will protect patients and establish the foundation upon which a medical marijuana program will be built.”
The two lawmakers joined with national advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in December to form Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, a campaign committee that will steer the ballot effort.
The measure unveiled on Tuesday is a constitutional amendment that generally lays out protections for patients and caregivers, which would later be fleshed out by implementing legislation and regulations if voters approve the proposal next November.
Under the amendment’s language, physicians or nurse practitioners would be able to issue recommendations to patients, who would then be allowed to “use, possess, access, and safely and discreetly produce an adequate supply of cannabis, cannabis preparations, products and materials, and cannabis-related equipment to alleviate diagnosed serious medical conditions without facing arrest, prosecution, or civil or criminal penalties.”
“State-legal private entities” would also be allowed to provide cannabis, meaning that the law would provide for a system of legal and regulated distribution through dispensaries.
In order for the amendment to appear on the ballot, advocates must first collect valid signatures from ten percent of the state’s voters, which amounts to roughly 122,00o signatures.
If the measure qualifies and is approved, Nebraska would become the latest in a string of conservative states to recently allow medical marijuana. Last year, voters in Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah all passed ballot measures letting patients use cannabis.
In addition to Nebraska’s effort, advocates are also working to qualify a medical marijuana measure for Mississippi’s 2020 general election ballot.
“Medical marijuana ballot initiatives are now politically viable in every state in the country,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director for MPP, said in an email, adding that he expects the list of states looking at cannabis measures for next year to grow. “Legislators in states that allow ballot initiatives should now understand that if they drag their feet, deny access, and maintain unjust policies that treat patients as criminals, then advocates will take the issue directly to voters.”
Read the full text of the proposed Nebraska medical marijuana ballot measure below:
Section 1. At the general election in November 2020, the following proposed amendment to the Constitution of Nebraska shall be submitted to the electors of the State of Nebraska for approval or rejection:
To add a new section xx to Article xx:
xx-xx The people of Nebraska, if recommended by a physician or nurse practitioner, have the right to use, possess, access, and safely and discreetly produce an adequate supply of cannabis, cannabis preparations, products and materials, and cannabis-related equipment to alleviate diagnosed serious medical conditions without facing arrest, prosecution, or civil or criminal penalties. A minor with a serious medical condition only has the right to use cannabis if recommended by a physician or nurse practitioner and with the consent of a custodial parent or legal guardian.
These rights include accessing cannabis, cannabis preparations, products and materials, and cannabis-related equipment from state-legal private entities in Nebraska, subject only to reasonable laws, rules, and regulations that promote the health and safety of patients, ensure continued access by patients to the type and quantity of cannabis they need, and prevent diversion without imposing an undue burden on patients or providers or compromising patients’ confidentiality. A person who has been recommended medical cannabis may be assisted by a caregiver in exercising these rights.
This section shall not be construed to allow the smoking of cannabis in public or possession of cannabis in detention facilities, nor shall it allow driving while impaired by cannabis or otherwise engaging in conduct that would be negligent to undertake while impaired by cannabis. This section does not require an employer to allow an employee to work while impaired by cannabis, nor does it require any insurance provider to cover medical cannabis.
Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week
A key Senate committee will hold a hearing next week to discuss hemp production, featuring witnesses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In the months since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, there’s been strong interest in developing USDA and FDA regulations for the crop and its compounds such as CBD, and lawmakers have repeatedly pressed the agencies to speed up the rulemaking process to unlock the industry’s potential.
While the hearing notice doesn’t go into detail about what will be discussed, the meeting’s title—”Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill”—and list of witnesses indicate that the conversation will revolve around the development of federal guidelines for hemp businesses.
— Sen. Ag Republicans (@SenateAgGOP) July 17, 2019
USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach, USDA General Counsel Stephen Vaden, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy and EPA Assistant Administrator of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Alexandra Dunn will appear before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on July 25.
I am honored to be called by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry to testify next week (7/25) on “Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill.” As FDA, we recognize how important the topics of hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) are to Americans. https://t.co/bHMBGth1bL
— Dr. Amy Abernethy (@DrAbernethyFDA) July 18, 2019
Other invited witnesses include Kentucky farmer Brian Furnish, National Hemp Association Executive Director Erica Stark and Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki.
The Senate Agriculture Committee meeting will mark the chamber’s second cannabis-related hearing of the week. The Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs announced on Tuesday that it will meet to discuss marijuana banking issues on July 23.
FDA and USDA have both recently signaled that they were cognizant of widespread interest in creating regulatory pathways for hemp and its derivatives, with USDA stating that it planned to release an interim final rule on the products in August and FDA’s Abernethy writing that the agency is “expediting” its rulemaking process. FDA added that it hoped to release a report on its progress by early fall.
That said, heads of the departments have also tried to temper expectations. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that USDA wouldn’t be expediting regulatory developments but that he expected them to be issued ahead of the 2020 planting seasons.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, meanwhile, cited policy complications that would make it difficult for the agency to create an alternative regulatory pathway for hemp-derived CBD products to be lawfully marketed as food items or dietary supplements. He said that without congressional action, it may take FDA years to establish those rules.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.
More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.
NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.
State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.
That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.
It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.
For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.
The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.
Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.
Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”
“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.
DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.
The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”
At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)