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Nebraska Supreme Court Hears Case Challenging Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative

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The Nebraska Supreme Court on Thursday heard oral arguments in a case that will decide whether a medical marijuana legalization initiative will appear on the November ballot.

While the measure already qualified after activists turned in nearly 200,000 signatures in July, a legal challenge was filed against the secretary of state’s office late last month, with Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner arguing that the proposal violates the state’s single-subject rule for ballot initiatives.

The state rejected that argument, but the local police official opted to take the case to court. Thursday’s hearing saw legal teams for the sheriff and the measure’s supporters—including state Sens. Adam Morfeld (D) and Anna Wishart (D)—make their respective cases about the appropriateness of including the reform proposal on the ballot.

The attorney for the plaintiff contended that the various provisions in the measure on patient access, retail sale and distribution constitute multiple issues that a single ballot initiative is not legally able to cover. But the defendant’s counsel made the case that this initiative’s scope is consistent with others that have been presented to voters and the single-subject matter is not at issue.

“The Nebraska Constitution provides the power of initiative is the first power reserved by the people. The power is precious,” the attorney representing the cannabis campaign said in his closing remarks. “It is one which the courts are zealous to preserve the fullest tenable measure, spirit as well as letter.”

“Here over 192,000 Nebraskans petitioned to exercise their right to vote on the medical marijuana initiative,” he said. “This court should zealously protect the power of initiative, recall its alternative writ and allow the voters to decide this major issue on November 3.”

Watch the Supreme Court discussion on the medical cannabis initiative below: 

A decision will need to be made in the case by September 11, which is the deadline to certify items for the November ballot.

If the measure is cleared for the ballot and voters approve it, 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.

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 last month.

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

The Washington, D.C. Board of Elections certified last 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 in July 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, 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 in July that they will be targeting the legislature instead.

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Initiative Has ‘Strong Chance Of Passage,’ Poll Shows

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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