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Nebraska Property Tax Hawks Aid Fight To Pass Medical Marijuana Ballot Measure

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Are your property taxes putting a strain on your bank account? Ready to give up those rolling acres for a cozy trailer? In Nebraska, marijuana may be coming to your rescue—and not just so you can get high and forget about all this.

On Monday, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, a group campaigning to pass a medical cannabis ballot initiative in November, announced they are joining forces with a statewide coalition called Adopt a Decrease in Oppressive Property Taxes (ADOPT) to “grow the state’s economy and reduce high property tax”.

ADOPT will help the cannabis campaign employ staffers and volunteers around the state to collect enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for ballot access. The group will also work to educate voters about the initiative and encourage turn them out to vote for it in November.

“We support the ballot initiative because it will improve health outcomes for citizens across the state, while also raising millions of dollars in revenue and economic growth,” ADOPT president Tommy Garrett, a former state senator who in 2015 introduced the first medical marijuana bill in the legislature, said in a press release. “This new economic growth and revenue to our communities could be used to fund roads and bridges, support education and reduce taxes. Once the ballot measure passes, we will work with the Nebraska Legislature to ensure the positive economic impact from medical cannabis will help reduce excessive property taxes.”

The medical marijuana campaign and ADOPT also announced they are employing ballot initiative consultants 1st Tuesday Campaigns, which has successfully helped pass ballot measures throughout the U.S. The outfit will be opening offices in Nebraska to help organize signature gathering and get-out-the-vote efforts.

“We are excited to welcome the support of ADOPT,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Our coalition is growing stronger as we continue on our path to victory this November.”

Nebraskans have the tenth-highest property taxes in the U.S. That revenue accounts for nearly 4 in every 10 dollars raised by the state, more than any other tax. The burden is borne most heavily by agricultural landowners. Property tax reform efforts have proved controversial in recent years, as some solutions have entailed raising income or sales taxes or cutting state spending in areas like education. Any increased revenue from legal marijuana, then, may help alleviate some of these strains.

The medical marijuana initiative would allow physicians to recommend cannabis for “diagnosed serious medical conditions,” and would create regulations for distributors and retailers to sell marijuana products in stores. Smoking in public or driving under the influence would remain illegal.

Marijuana reform in Nebraska has faced significant opposition. Though lawmakers have introduced medical marijuana measures in the legislature, and one bill was voted out of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee last year, none have been enacted.

Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) has firmly opposed any reform and said he will veto any legislation that reaches his desk. And Attorney General Doug Peterson (R) argued in August that any attempt to legalize medical marijuana in the state would be “unconstitutional” because, he said, it would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act—though legal experts disagree.

The legislative stalemate led state Sens. Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D) to form a campaign committee to put the question of medical cannabis directly to voters. Part of their plan has been that the possibility of voters enacting legalization themselves will put pressure on recalcitrant lawmakers to act first, though that hasn’t yet happened.

The medical marijuana ballot initiative was cleared by elections officials for signature gathering in March 2019. The campaign needs to turn in at least 122,000 valid signatures from registered voters by July to put the question on the ballot.

“We are so thankful to the hundreds of Nebraska volunteers and advocates across our state who have tirelessly committed their time and energy to collect signatures for this campaign,” Wishart said in a press release. “Without their support, we would not be able to expand our efforts to an additional paid drive and ensure this measure crosses the finish line.”

Nebraska is just one of several states where voters may have the final say on marijuana legalization in November. In January, a recreational marijuana measure officially qualified for the ballot in South Dakota, where a separate medical cannabis initiative also got enough signatures. In Mississippi, a medical marijuana measure qualified. New Jersey voters will also decide on recreational marijuana legalization after lawmakers approved a referendum resolution. Idaho activists are currently collecting voter signatures for their own medical marijuana initiative.

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Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.

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Alexander Lekhtman is a journalist and musician based in New York City. He hopes to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Follow more of his work at www.alexanderlekhtman.com

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