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.