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Nebraska advocates aim for a marijuana legalization twofer in 2022

December 7, 2020

Earlier this year, a legal technicality and a last-minute lawsuit ended the campaign to get medical marijuana legalization on Nebraska’s Nov. 3 statewide ballot.

Even though advocates gathered more than enough signatures, the Nebraska Supreme Court threw out the initiative in September essentially because of the way it was worded.

Advocates in the cornhusker state responded: Fine. In 2022, let’s do medical and recreational.

The advocacy group Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana announced Sunday that it will roll out ballot initiatives in January 2021 for “full adult use” of cannabis. The group’s leaders, state senators Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld, both from Lincoln, cited the overall momentum of the movement across the country as evidence that it made sense to think bigger. 

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Nebraska high court kills 2020 medical marijuana initiative

State Supreme Court ended 2020 bid

Earlier this supporters of the campaign to bring medical cannabis to a statewide ballot gathered 182,000 signatures—easily more than the 122,000 they needed. The initiative would have altered Nebraska’s state constitution to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Secretary of State Bob Evnen certified the petitions, but a county sheriff challenged the initiative, arguing that among other things, it violated a requirement that constitutional questions contain only one subject.

The ballot question was plainly just about medical marijuana. But the Nebraska Supreme Court jumped on board, ruling that in fact the question had eight subjects—that some of the language embedded in the act, like prohibiting smoking marijuana in public, made up other distinct constitutional rights and policies.

The state high court’s ruling ended Nebraska’s 2020 legalization bid, but Wishart and Morfeld vowed to fight on.

A boost from neighboring states

When South Dakota passed both medical and adult-use legalization on November 3, becoming the 15th state to do so, the Nebraska senators had fresh ammunition. Now two of Nebraska’s neighboring states (Colorado being the other) have fully legalized.

The senators also pointed to the historic vote in the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday to decriminalize marijuana as further evidence of the inevitable. 

“People in rural conservative areas are open-minded about not only medical marijuana but recreational use,” Morfeld told the Lincoln Journal Star. He wrote on Twitter: “We will have full marijuana legalization in Nebraska in 2022 if it’s the last thing we do.”

Wishart told the newspaper that it was “common sense” to pass full adult-use legalization, since two neighboring states had already done so, and Nebraskans could face felony charges if they purchased products legally in Colorado or South Dakota and brought them home.

She also cited the various benefits of taxing cannabis, from reducing property taxes to funding better mental health.

More resistance expected from electeds

Although many other area red states have embraced cannabis for medical purposes—Oklahoma is another notable example—the state’s leaders maintain an unreconstructed view of such initiatives. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts fought the medical cannabis proposal and will likely also try to stare down further legalization efforts.

And Nebraska’s attorney general wrote in a 2019 opinion that attempts to legalize would be preempted by federal law, and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.” That argument is a novel one, given that federal law already conflicts with state law in all of the 15 adult-use states, but the state-federal conflict has not stopped state legalization laws from proceeding and operating effectively.

The showdown is set for 2022. Stay tuned.

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Dave Howard

Dave Howard is a national magazine editor and award-winning author. His most recent book is Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents With the World's Most Charming Con Man.

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