Nebraska’s secretary of state on Thursday rejected a legal challenge against an initiative to legalize medical marijuana, clearing a path to the November ballot.
On Wednesday, officials informed the campaign Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana that their measure had enough valid signatures to qualify. But on the same day, a law firm filed a motion asking that the secretary of state prevent the initiative from appearing on the ballot because, they claimed, it violated the state’s single-subject rule precluding ballot measures that cover more than one issue.
The firm, which did not disclose its clients, also argued that the proposal “cases confusion” and “creates doubt about what will be authorized after the election.”
But Secretary of State Robert Evnen—despite having recently kicked three gambling-related initiatives off the ballot because of a single-subject challenge—did not accept the legal argument and is letting the cannabis measure proceed to be decided on by voters.
“Whether the Amendment complies with the single subject rule is a close question,” Evnen wrote in his determination.
“The production and sale of medical cannabis has a natural and necessary connection to legalization of medical cannabis for individual use, which is the primary purpose of the Amendment,” he said, explaining why he ultimately rejected the assertion that the measure covered unrelated issues. “As with other legal medications, third parties are given the right to manufacture, sell and distribute the medications. It is inherent in the legalization of medical cannabis that someone or some category of persons must be granted the right or authority to produce, sell and distribute the medical cannabis.”
The secretary of state concluded by saying that “the constitutional right to bring forward initiative petitions for a vote of the people is fundamental to our state governance and is to be zealously protected.”
“Based upon my review, and for the reasons set forth above, I conclude that the Amendment is legally sufficient and I shall not withhold it from the ballot unless otherwise ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction,” he said.
The medical cannabis campaign celebrated the decision.
“We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time, and today we are closer than ever to making medical marijuana safely and legally accessible to patients in Nebraska,” it wrote in an email blast to supporters. “Of course, this is far from over. In fact, the real battle is just beginning. But this is the fight we’ve wanted to have for years, because we know the people of Nebraska are on our side.”
It’s not clear if the law firm representing unnamed residents taking issue with the ballot measure will appeal Evnen’s decision in court.
The official seemed to bristle at the timing of the late challenge in his seven-page reply.
“This is the eleventh hour. The objection to the Amendment was received by this office on Wednesday, August 26, 2020, only 16 calendar days before the date on which I am required to certify the ballot in its entirety,” he said. “An issue of the magnitude of this matter will surely result in court review no matter what I decide here.”
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana submitted nearly 200,000 signatures last month, well beyond the 121,669 required to qualify for the ballot.
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.
Sens. Anna Wishart Adam Morfeld, cochairs of the legalization campaign, 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 (MPP) and other advocacy groups, they decided to put the issue directly to voters.
This is a big deal, and a huge step forward for the campaign.
— Senator Adam Morfeld (@Adam_Morfeld) August 27, 2020
“We’re very pleased to see Secretary Evnen do the right thing,” Jared Moffat, campaigns coordinator for MPP, told Marijuana Moment. “Nebraskans were loud and clear that they want this on the ballot. We’re 68 days away from Election Day, and now the real battle begins.”
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.
Read the letter on the medical marijuana ballot measure from Nebraska’s secretary of state below:
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.