Nebraska MMJ Initiative Faces Legal Challenge Ahead of November Ballot

Nebraska voters seem to want medical marijuana…but will a legal battle prevent them from voting on it?
Nebraska MMJ Initiative Faces Legal Challenge Ahead of November Ballot

Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen confirmed on Wednesday that a voter initiative that would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana in the state had received enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Activists with Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana submitted petitions supporting the measure in July, saying they were hopeful they had collected the more than 121,000 verified signatures necessary to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Evnen said that he hoped to decide by Thursday if the ballot initiative fulfilled the legal requirements to appear on the ballot. Earlier this week, he determined that three separate initiatives that would have legalized casino gambling in Nebraska would not be placed on the ballot despite receiving enough signatures because their language was misleading and confusing.

But even if the initiative survives his legal analysis, the measure may not appear on the ballot for the general election. Evnen said that if he announced his decision to include the initiative on the ballot Thursday morning, it would quickly face a challenge in court.

“I would expect by the afternoon someone will have filed something,” Evnen said.

That challenge is likely to come from Lincoln-based attorney Mark Fahleson, a former chairman for the Nebraska Republican Party. He represents residents of the state opposed to the legalization measure and sent a letter to Evnen on Wednesday that calls the initiative’s “legal sufficiency” into question.

“We request that you withhold this legally insufficient measure from the ballot,” Fahleson wrote in the letter.

He also wrote that the language of the measure is confusing and violates the state’s constitutional requirement that initiatives be limited to a single subject. Fahleson said the measure “creates serious doubt as to what would be legalized.”

However, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana attorneys Max Kelch and Jason Grams responded with their own letter to Evnen, saying Fahelson’s arguments are “unreasonable” and characterizing his legal challenge as “a last-minute attempt to derail the precious right of the people.”

Democratic state Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, a co-chair of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, wrote on Twitter that the legal challenge to the initiative would not survive without a fight.

“Over 190,000 Nebraskans exercised their constitutional right to put medical marijuana on the ballot and we will do everything to protect their right to be heard,” he said.

Morfeld also told reporters that “everything necessary” will be done to allow voters to decide the issue, “including going to the Supreme Court.”

Fellow Democratic Sen. Anna Wishart, also of Lincoln and a co-chair of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, said that the group had gathered 123,000 in the final month of collection, despite restrictions put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The group also collected signatures from at least 5% of registered voters in 48 counties, exceeding a requirement to reach that threshold in 38 of Nebraska’s 93 counties.

“This is overwhelming evidence that voters want medical marijuana on the ballot and legal for patients with serious and debilitating health conditions,” Wishart said.

If the initiative is certified for the ballot by Evnen and survives the expected legal challenge, legal medical marijuana could become a reality in Nebraska. Polling by the campaign shows that the legalization initiative has the support of 70% of the state’s voters.

“I’ve never seen such rabid supporters of an issue before,” Morfeld said.

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