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Sheriff Files Lawsuit To Keep Medical Marijuana Off Nebraska’s Ballot

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After failing to convince Nebraska’s secretary of state to keep a medical marijuana initiative off the state’s ballot, a local police official is now going to court to try to prevent voters from getting a chance to decide on the measure.

Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner filed the case on Friday, just one day after Secretary of State Bob Evnen rejected his arguments that the ballot proposal “cases confusion,” “creates doubt about what will be authorized after the election” and violates the state’s single-subject rule for initiatives. That filing was made by a law firm that refused to disclose the sheriff as its client.

Now the top county cop has revealed himself in the new lawsuit filing, and the state Supreme Court will take up the dispute, with arguments expected on Thursday. A decision will need to be made in the case by September 11, which is the deadline to certify items for November ballots.

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 and other advocacy groups, they decided to put the issue directly to voters.

On Saturday, Morfeld recalled pressing Wagner about the relative dangers of marijuana, alcohol and other drugs during a Judiciary Committee hearing.

“I asked Sheriff Wagner how many people had died from drug and alcohol overdoses in his career?” the senator tweeted. “He said too many to count. How many from marijuana? Zero.”


Nebraskas for Medical Marijuana said in in an email to supporters that it has “overcome many challenges in this campaign, and we will overcome this one, too.

“Common sense, compassion, and the law are on our side,” the campaign said.

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.

Read the full Nebraska medical cannabis lawsuit below:

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Lawsuit by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

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