Nebraska activists announced on Thursday that they are temporarily suspending signature gathering for a campaign to legalize medical marijuana in the state, citing concerns about the novel coronavirus.
This is just the latest example of how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting drug policy reform efforts across the country, with advocates ending traditional campaign activities and some requesting emergency action to allow for alternative means to put measures on state ballots this year.
That said, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana said they remain confident that the initiative will prevail nonetheless.
“Thank you to all Nebraskans who have given their support so far to our effort to get voter approval of legalized medical cannabis on the ballot this fall,” the group said in a Facebook post. “Your signatures, along with overwhelming citizen support for the measure, is going to help make it a reality and bring relief to individuals and communities throughout our entire state.”
However, the campaign is pressing pause for now, they said.
“Out of an abundance of caution and following the wider recommendations from public health officials, we are going to pause our volunteer and paid signature-gathering efforts within local community gathering places until the state indicates it is responsible to continue,” the post states. “We look forward to the opportunity to get back out there to help Nebraskans create meaningful change for each other, and we wish you and your loved ones health and peace of mind right now.”
The proposed constitutional amendment would allow physicians to recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions. Patients would be allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.
Activists must collect about 130,000 signatures by July 8 in order to qualify for the November ballot. It’s not clear how far into the process the campaign is, nor how long it will be until they will continue in-person signature gathering.
But the Nebraska campaign—which also recently announced it is receiving assistance from a property tax reduction coalition—is far from the only reform effort that’s being set back by the coronavirus outbreak.
Two campaigns in California—one to amend the state’s marijuana program and another to legalize psilocybin mushrooms—are suspending conventional activities and asking the government to allow for digital signature collection to allow them to qualify for the November ballot. In Washington, D.C., a campaign to decriminalize psychedelics similarly implored lawmakers to enact emergency legislation to allow signatures to be collected online.
The virus is also dashing hopes among advocates in New York. While the governor has insisted the cannabis legalization be accomplished through the budget, a key sponsor of a reform bill said on Wednesday that it’s unlikely lawmakers will reach an agreement by an April deadline as the legislature works to respond to the outbreak.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.