Volunteers for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana fanned out on the streets of Lincoln last weekend to begin gathering signatures for two medical marijuana ballot initiatives.
One would protect doctors who prescribe medical cannabis and their patients and another would require the Legislature to protect producers and suppliers of medical cannabis.
If enough registered voters — 7% — sign onto these petitions, medical marijuana statutes will be on the ballot on Election Day 2022.
Presently, possession of one ounce or less of cannabis in Nebraska is an infraction, possession of an ounce to a pound is a misdemeanor and possession of more than a pound is a felony, according to Berry Law.
These dual ballot initiatives are the organization’s second effort to force the state Legislature to allow medical marijuana in Nebraska.
According to their FAQ, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is a “registered ballot question committee in Nebraska supporting a pair of complementary 2022 voter initiatives.” State Sens. Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld have co-led the organization since 2020.
Last year, the Nebraska Supreme Court struck down a medical marijuana petition spearheaded by the group that would have allowed adults and children to access medical cannabis and allow adults to possess, purchase and produce cannabis “to alleviate a serious medical condition.”
Although the petition received more signatures than necessary, it was struck down for having “violated the state’s single-subject rule” — referring to a state requirement that multiple proposals cannot be tied to the same ballot measure if they lack the same purpose.
Jason Wendling, a junior political science and history double major and vice president of UNL College Republicans, said in an email that “if there is legal precedent” for the Supreme Court’s decision, “then there is very little to argue.”
Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said in an email that the new ballot initiative is “simply one more effort to allow the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry to establish a foothold in Nebraska.” The harmful impact of “the commercialization of high potency THC” on Nebraskans is indisputable, the governor added.
While Ricketts has maintained this strong stance against marijuana, Wendling said College Republicans are waiting to see what Nebraskans think.
“We believe that people should be able to work with their doctor to find the best way to treat their illness and pain,” Wendling said. “And so if there are enough Nebraskans that believe that medical marijuana is best for them, and a ballot measure is passed, then we applaud their work.”
Wishart disagrees with last year’s ruling but said “the past is the past, and we have to learn from it.”
Wishart has been advocating for medical marijuana in Nebraska since a conversation she had early in her freshman term with a constituent. The constituent’s grandson had severe epilepsy and moved to California for supervised treatment with medical cannabis.
Wishart’s constituents “would be treated like criminals here,” she said, if they returned and attempted to maintain the same treatment.
State Sen. Ben Hansen worked with Wishart on LB481, a marijuana bill introduced this year that was unable to advance. He added an amendment that he said increased Republican support in the Legislature and changed the Nebraska Medical Association’s opinion from negative to neutral.
Hansen said he is in favor of allowing medical marijuana to be prescribed “in a very specific set of circumstances.”
“If you’re looking to prescribe it, you have to have a condition you’re going to do it and a mode that you’re going to prescribe it in any kind of prescription medication, and then you have to be able to dose it,” Hansen said.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has made preparations to ensure the new petition drive will end differently from last year. Wishart said the organization worked over the summer with a legal team to draft the language for the new ballot initiatives, which led them to split the petition in two.
Hansen said he hasn’t had the time to look at the full language of the two petitions but does not want to see the legislation become too broad.
Confidence is high within Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana that despite Nebraskans having to sign twice, both ballot initiatives will receive enough signatures.
“What I would call the grassroots movement here in Nebraska surrounding this issue is something that I would say has never been seen even across the nation,” campaign coordinator Crista Eggers said.
Wishart said in a text that the signature drive this weekend “went great,” adding there is “lots of enthusiasm in Lincoln and across the state.”
Nebraskan business leaders are watching to see if the ballot initiatives open up new opportunities in the cannabis industry.
John Cartier, president of the board of directors of Nebraska Cannabis Association, was a member of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana during last year’s initiative and now leads the recently founded Nebraska Cannabis Association. He has been working on drug reform issues since 2014.
“It is not unreasonable to predict that some form of legalization will happen before this decade is done,” Cartier said.
Cartier said the association is focused on “building up our membership list” and plans on “lobbying in the Unicameral as soon as next year.”
Nebraska is one of three states — including Idaho and Kansas — without any form of marijuana legalization. If these petitions become ballot measures and pass in 2022, Nebraska could become the 37th state to legally regulate medical marijuana.