Nebraska marijuana activists announced on Wednesday that they have turned in a pair of complementary initiatives to legalize medical cannabis that they hope to place on the state’s 2022 ballot.
The advocacy group Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana says it expects the secretary of state’s office to sign off on the language of the measures by the end of the month, after which point activists will be cleared to begin collecting the roughly 250,000 signatures required to qualify each of the initiatives. They will have until July 7, 2022 to turn in enough valid submissions.
This is the group’s second time pursuing the ballot for cannabis reform. While they collected enough signatures to qualify a medical marijuana legalization measure for the 2020 ballot, the state Supreme Court invalidated it because it violated the single-subject rule for citizen initiatives.
Activists aren’t taking any chances this round. The campaign—which is being led by a coalition of families, patients and lawmakers—deliberately chose to take a bifurcated approach with the complementary proposals to the reform to avoid such a legal challenge.
One of the initiatives would direct the legislature to pass a bill establishing legal protections for patients and doctors around cannabis, while the other would require lawmakers to pass legislation allowing private companies to produce and sell medical marijuana products. The text has not been released yet, but the campaign says it intends to post the full measures after the state formally approves their language.
A separate effort in the legislature this session stalled when supporters failed to muster enough votes to overcome a GOP-led filibuster.
Jared Moffat, campaigns manager for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which is helping to coordinate the state effort, told Marijuana Moment that his group is “really happy to see this campaign moving forward.”
“It’s remarkable how much public support there is for medical cannabis in Nebraska despite extreme opposition from some Republican politicians in the state,” he said. “It has to be credited to the families and patient advocates who have steadily made the case for compassion to their neighbors through years of educating and organizing. The politicians aren’t listening to these parents and suffering patients, but I think the voters certainly will.”
Two politicians who are evidently listening, however, are Sens. Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D). The two lawmakers are working with Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, and both have championed reform legislation in the legislature.
“It’s heartbreaking and senseless that politicians are standing in the way of families and patients who desperately need safe, legal access to medical cannabis,” Morfeld said in a press release. “But we will not stop fighting for them. We hope that every Nebraskan will stand with us and help our campaign succeed by getting involved and supporting the effort however they can.”
The senators announced in December that they would also work to put the question of legalizing marijuana for adult use before voters in 2022. But it’s not clear if a recreational measure is still in the works or not at this point.
Crista Eggers, signature drive director for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, told Marijuana Moment in June that the plan was to “hit the ground running on a mass scale” beginning this summer to gather signatures.
The group previously floated the idea of adding a short constitutional amendment into the mix that would simply declare people “in the state of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes.” But that plan was shelved in favor of the new twin measures.
“No matter what your political background is, we should all agree that criminalizing a medicine that has the potential to alleviate suffering, is both cruel and inhumane,” Eggers said on Wednesday. “The current policy doesn’t reflect our family values here in Nebraska, and we’re going to change that.”
Nebraska’s attorney general said in an opinion in 2019 that efforts to legalize medical marijuana legislatively in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”
Under last year’s blocked Nebraska medical cannabis initiative, physicians would have been able to recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, and those patients would then have been allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.
When Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana qualified that measure for the ballot—only to be thwarted by the court—they submitted nearly 200,000 signatures.
Looking ahead to 2022, Nebraska isn’t the only state where voters could see cannabis reform on the ballot.
Ohio activists recently cleared a final hurdle to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state.
Missouri voters may see a multiple marijuana initiatives on the state’s ballot next year, with a new group filing an adult-use legalization proposal late last month that could compete with separate reform measures that are already in the works.
Arkansas advocates are collecting signatures to place adult-use marijuana legalization on the ballot.
Activists in Idaho are working to advance separate measures to legalize possession of recreational marijuana and to create a system of legal medical cannabis sales. State officials recently cleared activists to begin collecting signatures for a revised initiative to legalize possession of marijuana that they hope to place before voters on the 2022 ballot. Meanwhile, a separate campaign to legalize medical cannabis in the state is also underway, with advocates actively collecting signatures to qualify that measure for next year’s ballot.
Maryland’s House speaker has pledged that lawmakers will pass legislation to put the question of marijuana legalization before voters as a referendum on the 2022 ballot. She’s formed a cannabis working group to assess the best way to structure the reform.
After a House-passed bill to legalize marijuana in North Dakota was rejected by the Senate in March, some senators hatched a plan to advance the issue by referring it to voters on the 2022 ballot. While their resolution advanced through a key committee, the full Senate blocked it. However, activists with the group North Dakota Cannabis Caucus are collecting signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis for the 2022 ballot.
Oklahoma advocates are pushing two separate initiatives to legalize marijuana for adult use and overhaul the state’s existing medical cannabis program.
South Dakota activists recently filed four separate legalization measures with the state Legislative Research Council—the first step toward putting the issue before voters next year if the state Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling that overturned the legal cannabis measure that voters approved last November.
Wyoming’s attorney general recently issued ballot summaries for proposed initiatives to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize cannabis possession, freeing up activists to collect signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot.