The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that an initiative that would have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis is unconstitutional and may not appear before voters in the November election. The court said in a split decision that the initiative violated constitutional requirements that initiatives be limited to a single subject and ordered the initiative stripped from the ballot.
“If voters are to intelligently adopt a State policy with regard to medicinal cannabis use, they must first be allowed to decide that issue alone, unencumbered by other subjects,” the court wrote in its conclusion. “As proposed, the NMCCA contains more than one subject—by our count, it contains at least eight subjects.”
“We reverse the Secretary of State’s decision and issue a writ of mandamus directing him to withhold the initiative from the November 2020 general election ballot,” the opinion states.
In July, supporters of the initiative, the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Constitutional Amendment (NMCCA), submitted more than 182,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. The following month, Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen determined that the initiative had received enough verified signatures and met other legal requirements to appear on the November ballot.
But that decision was challenged by Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner, who filed suit to block the initiative from appearing on the ballot on the grounds that it violated the single-subject rule and contained misleading language. The challenge was upheld by a vote of 5 to 2 by the Supreme Court, which ruled that provisions that provided for retail sales, home cultivation, and other issues were not sufficiently connected to legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis.
After the Supreme Court released its decision, Evnen said that he would comply with the order to remove the medical marijuana initiative from the ballot and add three gambling initiatives that he had ruled should not be included.
“The Secretary of State is required by statute to issue determinations as to whether initiative petitions are legally sufficient. I did my best to make those determinations on a timely basis in accordance with law,” Evnen said in a statement. “Today the Supreme Court issued its decisions concerning these petitions. I respect the rule of law and I will certify the ballot in compliance with the Court’s orders.”
Activists React To Supreme Court Decision
Carly Wolf, the state policies director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), called for legislative action to legalize medical marijuana in Nebraska after the Supreme Court’s decision was released.
“It’s extremely disappointing that Nebraskans with debilitating conditions will continue to be denied access to a therapeutic treatment that could provide significant benefits,” Wolf said in a press release. “An overwhelming majority of Nebraskans support this policy change, which I hope will propel state lawmakers to take action next year and approve legislation to reform Nebraska’s outdated and unjust marijuana policies.”
The group supporting the initiative, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, said it would continue the fight to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis.
“We just heard and the news is not good. Like all of you, we are absolutely devastated by the Supreme Court ruling. But this fight is not over,” the group wrote on Facebook. “Nothing changes the fact that an overwhelming majority of Nebraskans stand with the patients and families who deserve compassion and safe access to medical cannabis. We will be regrouping and updating you all soon with plans for our next steps.”