Nebraska marijuana activists are gearing up for a “mass scale” campaign to put medical cannabis legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot after the legislature failed to pass a bill to enact the reform this session.
And since the state Supreme Court invalidated a measure that qualified for the 2020 ballot based on a statutory challenge, voters can expect to see multiple, complementary initiatives that are currently being vetted by lawyers to ensure that opponents can’t leverage the legal system to block the policy change again.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has brought on Crista Eggers as signature drive director, and she told Marijuana Moment that the plan is to to “hit the ground running on a mass scale” starting on July 1 “where you just can’t go anywhere without somebody being there to collect your signature if you’re ready.”
Eggers, who said her son’s severe epilepsy connected her with a community that opened her eyes to the extent to which this reform is needed, believes that “this time around, we are absolutely making sure that everything is very solid and there are no holes in anything and nothing that the opposition can use in the future to try to overturn things.”
“What that means right now is that we most likely will be circulating several petitions,” she said.
The first one—a proposed constitutional amendment—has already been drafted and is set for circulation. To avoid another single-subject challenge, the measure states plainly and simply: “Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes.”
Additional petitions would likely be statutory, meaning they would require fewer signatures to qualify for the ballot. Those measures would support the constitutional amendment by setting out regulations and infrastructure for a medical marijuana program—and they’re actively being reviewed by attorneys.
“Doing it that way really helps protect the rights of the individuals who will be accessing medical cannabis,” Eggers said. That said, the campaign is hoping to minimize the number of petitions that they have to pursue to simply the outreach process and for the sake of cost savings.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we will get this done,” she said. “But we want to get it done smart and strategically so we have the best chance of success.”
When Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana previously qualified a medical marijuana legalization initiative for the 2020 ballot—only to be thwarted by the court—they submitted nearly 200,000 signatures. Eggers said there’s lasting frustration among voters, including those who may not have been especially impassioned about the issue itself, that the court unilaterally prevented them from acting on the proposal.
That frustration could translate into even more resources for the campaign this round. Already, there are about 1,000 volunteers “ready to get started,” Eggers said.
Once language is finalized, “we feel confident that we can begin circulating on a mass scale,” she said. “We have a great infrastructure to do that and great communication within the campaign in all areas of the state.”
To put the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, advocates will need to collect about 124,000 valid signatures from registered voters.
Sens. Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D) have been involved in the medical cannabis campaign, and the pair announced in December that they would also work to put the question of legalizing marijuana for adult use before voters in 2022.
But even if activists do collect enough petitions to qualify any of the measures, they will still likely face a challenge at the polls, as midterms generally see lower turnout as compared to presidential election years.
For what it’s worth, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) is an adamant opponent of marijuana reform, so it seems likely he would have vetoed any medical cannabis bill that lawmakers sent to his desk. Overriding a gubernatorial veto would’ve required 30 votes, meaning at least some members of his own party would have had to move to reject the governor’s action. Bringing the issue directly to voters circumvents those sorts of political problems.
Under last year’s blocked Nebraska medical cannabis initiative, physicians would have been able to recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, and those patients would then have been allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.
Nebraska’s attorney general said in an opinion in 2019 that efforts to legalize medical marijuana in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”