Nebraskans will get a chance to vote on a medical marijuana measure in November if enough of the 182,000 signatures activists are submitting to the state for verification on Thursday are valid.
If the initiative qualifies for the ballot and is approved, physicians could recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, and those patients would then be allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.
“Families with loved ones suffering from conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, and cancer have fought for years to make medical cannabis safely accessible. Today represents a huge step forward for thousands of Nebraskans who deserve compassion,” Sen. Anna Wishart (D), co-chair of the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana campaign committee, said in a press release. “We are confident that we’ve met the requirements for ballot qualification, and after seeing the outpouring of support for our petition, we’re even more confident that Nebraska voters will approve this initiative in November.”
Wishart and other lawmakers have tried for years to pass medical cannabis bills in the legislature only to be blocked by opposition from leadership. Now, in teaming up with the Marijuana Policy Project and other advocacy groups, they are taking the issue directly to voters.
To qualify for the ballot, the campaign needs 121,669 valid signatures from registered voters statewide, and that must include at least 5 percent of voters in a minimum of 38 counties across Nebraska.
While the campaign suspended signature gathering amid the COVID-19 outbreak, it relaunched its efforts in May with new social distancing safety protocols in place. Advocates are confident the renewed efforts were enough to put them over the top.
“This was a herculean effort that overcame tremendous challenges, including a pandemic that severely impacted our ability to collect signatures on the original timeline. But the dedication of our petition circulators, along with the passionate support for this issue from Nebraskans of all backgrounds, propelled us forward,” Barry Rubin, president of Heartland Strategy Group, which spearheaded the signature gathering effort, said. “In the coming months, we will be making the case to voters that establishing a system of safe access for medical cannabis, as 33 other states have done, will be tremendously beneficial for the people of Nebraska.”
While the bulk of petitions were collected by paid canvassers, 33,000 signatures were turned in by volunteers, including 14,000 collected in the last two and a half weeks alone.
“This signature drive included a truly impressive feat of grassroots mobilization. We would not have crossed the finish line without the tireless efforts of advocates, patients, families, volunteers, and hardworking Nebraskans who believe in this cause,” Wishart said. “We’re also proud to say that we registered over five thousand new voters from across the state.”
State and local officials will now validate and count the submitted signatures and are expected to make a determination on qualification by mid-August.
Here’s a status update on other drug policy reform campaigns across the country:
An effort to decriminalize drug possession and increase funding for treatment officially made it onto the ballot this week.
Another Oregon campaign to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use turned in what advocates believe are more than enough petitions to qualify, but some submissions must still be validated by the state.
In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort turned in 420,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Montana activists recently turned in more than 130,000 signatures to qualify a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives for the November ballot.
In Washington, D.C., a campaign to decriminalize a broad range of psychedelic substances is nearing the end of its signature drive.
Idaho activists behind a medical marijuana legalization initiative could get a second wind after a federal judge said last week that the state must make accommodations for a separate ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.
The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.
And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
North Dakota activists said they plan to continue campaign activities for a marijuana legalization initiative, but it’s more likely that they will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.
Washington State activists had planned to pursue a drug decriminalization and treatment measure through the ballot, but citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, they announced last week that they will be targeting the legislature instead.