Nebraska activists are officially collecting signatures to put a pair of medical marijuana legalization initiatives on the state’s 2024 ballot.
About two months after submitting the petitions to the secretary of state’s office, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) is now in petitioning mode and seeking donations and volunteers to assist in the grassroots effort.
This is the campaign’s third attempt to allow voters to decide on medical cannabis legalization. Advocates collected enough signatures for ballot placement in 2020, but the measure was invalidated by the state Supreme Court following a single subject challenge. And they came up short on signatures for revised petitions amid a loss of critical funding in 2022.
“This time, we’re starting early,” NMM said in an email blast to supporters last week. “Our deadline to collect enough valid signatures is July 3, 2024, and we’re not letting up for a second.”
Nebraska lawmakers, including NMM co-chair Sen. Anna Wishart (D), have also attempted to enact the reform legislatively, but cannabis bills have consistently stalled out in the conservative legislature.
“That’s why we have no choice but to continue petitioning our government,” the group’s email said. “The Legislature refuses to act despite the majority of Nebraskans—from all parties, regions, ages, etc.—supporting legalizing medical marijuana, which would transform and save the lives of thousands of Nebraskans.”
Wishart’s medical cannabis bill received a hearing in the unicameral legislature’s Judiciary Committee in February, but it did not advance. She attributed the inaction to turnover and changes in membership. An earlier version of the measure ultimately stalled out in the GOP-controlled legislature amid a filibuster that supporters could not overcome.
Now activists are geared up for a year-long signature drive to tackle the issue. And they have a volunteer page that shows where they’ll be collecting, including weekly appearances at a farmers market in Omaha.
The first of the two current ballot initiatives from the campaign would require lawmakers to codify protections for doctors who recommend cannabis and patients who purchase and possess it. The patient-focused measure says that its aim is to “enact a statute that makes penalties inapplicable under state and local law for the use, possession, and acquisition of limited quantities of cannabis for medical purposes by a qualified patient with a written recommendation from a health care practitioner, and for a caregiver to assist a qualified patient in these activities.”
The other initiative would create a new a Nebraska Medical Cannabis Commission to provide “necessary registration and regulation of persons that possess, manufacture, distribute, deliver, and dispense cannabis for medical purposes.”
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The complementary proposals are meant to be narrowly focused to avoid a single subject challenge that derailed the earlier 2020 reform push.
In order to make the November 2024 ballot, the campaign will need to collect about 87,000 valid signatures from registered voters for each petition and turn them in by July 5, 2024.
After the medical cannabis setback in 2022, the campaign suggested that they might ultimately pursue an adult-use legalization initiative. But it appears that the strategy is currently focused on medical marijuana alone.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.