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Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Has Enough Signatures For Ballot, But Legal Challenge Filed

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Activists behind a campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Nebraska announced on Wednesday that the secretary of state’s office has informed them they collected enough signatures to qualify their initiative for the November ballot. Meanwhile, a law firm representing unnamed state residents filed a last-minute legal challenge attempting to prevent voters from having a chance to decide on the measure.

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana said in an email blast that while the secretary of state has not formally certified the initiative, office staff informed them that they submitted enough valid signatures to make the cut.

There’s “no doubt that we met the constitutional requirements for signature collection,” Sens. Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D), cochairs of the campaign, said.

“This is an unbelievable achievement, and we’re ecstatic,” they said. “As much as we want to celebrate, there’s no time to waste. Nebraskans will begin casting their ballots next month, and we have to quickly ramp up our efforts to fight back against a very well-funded opposition campaign.”

“Just like we succeeded in the signature drive, our campaign can’t win at the ballot box without your help,” the email states. “Nebraskans have made their voices clear that they want a chance to vote on medical marijuana in November—now let’s win.”

In a press release, Wishart emphasized that the campaign “collected 123,000 signatures in one month—during a pandemic.”

“We couldn’t have done that without the support of tens of thousands of Nebraskans across the state,” she said. “This is overwhelming evidence that voters want medical marijuana on the ballot and legal for patients with serious and debilitating health conditions.”

Despite the signature qualification, however, a law firm sent a letter to the secretary of state on Wednesday, alleging that the legalization measure violates the state’s “single-subject” rule that precludes ballot initiatives that cover more than one issue, and arguing that the proposal “cases confusion” and “creates doubt about what will be authorized after the election.”

Three gambling-related measure were bumped from the ballot by the state this week over a single-subject dispute.

“On the same day we were told that we had enough signatures and qualified Medical Marijuana to be on the ballot we received a letter challenging the constitutionality of our initiative,” Morfeld wrote on Twitter. “Our language is drafted based on prior Supreme Court precedent and is constitutional.”

The secretary of state is aiming to make a determination about the legal challenge by Thursday, a Nebraska Public Radio reporter said.

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana submitted about 182,000 signatures last month, well beyond the 121,669 required to qualify for the ballot.

“It’s absolutely incredible what the volunteers and this campaign pulled off. The state received signatures from nearly 200,000 Nebraskans, including parents of children with epilepsy, cancer patients, and veterans with debilitating pain—people whose lives literally depend on this being on the ballot and passing,” Jared Moffat, campaigns coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.

“The notion that one person could decide, based on a nonsensical legal argument, that this should not be on the ballot is simply unacceptable,” he said. “We will fight tooth and nail to ensure the people of Nebraska have a chance to vote on this amendment.”

Under the proposal, 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.

Wishart and other legislators have tried for years to pass medical cannabis bills in the legislature only to be blocked by opposition from leadership. But with help from the Marijuana Policy Project and other advocacy groups, they are now putting the issue directly to voters.

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.

Nebraska’s attorney general said in an opinion last year that efforts to legalize medical marijuana legislatively in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”

Here’s a status update on other 2020 drug policy reform campaigns across the country: 

A measure to legalize marijuana in Arizona officially qualified for the November ballot earlier this month.

Montana’s secretary of state also announced this month that cannabis activists collected more than enough signatures to qualify two legalization measures.

The Washington, D.C. Board of Elections certified this month that activists submitted enough valid signatures to place a measure to decriminalize plant- and fungi-based psychedelics in the nation’s capital.

Oregon’s secretary of state confirmed last month that separate measures to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs while expanding treatment services will appear on the November ballot.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, separate 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.

Idaho activists behind a medical marijuana legalization initiative were hoping to get a second wind after a federal judge said recently that the state must make accommodations for a separate ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the other group last week, hopes are dashed.

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 marijuana legalization activists are shifting focus and 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 month that they will be targeting the legislature instead.

This story was updated to include comment from the Marijuana Policy Project.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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