A state senator introduced a proposed amendment to the Nebraska Constitution on Thursday that would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older. If advanced by the Nebraska Legislature, the proposed amendment from state Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha would appear on the ballot in 2022.
Under Legislative Resolution 2CA, voters would decide on a proposed amendment to the state constitution in next year’s general election in November. The amendment would legalize marijuana for all adults age 21 and older and require state lawmakers to enact legislation governing the “cultivation, manufacture, distribution, consumption, and sale of cannabis in any form” by October 1, 2023.
2020 Ballot Initiative Nixed By State Supreme Court
The proposed amendment comes following an unsuccessful bid by activists to legalize medical marijuana last year with the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Constitutional Amendment (NMCCA). Supporters of the ballot measure submitted more than 182,000 signatures in July, and the following month Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen announced that the measure had garnered enough signatures to qualify for a vote and certified the initiative for the November 2020 general election ballot.
However, that decision was challenged by Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner, who filed a lawsuit to block the initiative from appearing on the ballot on the grounds that it contained misleading language and violated a rule limiting initiatives to one subject. The challenge was upheld by a vote of 5 to 2 by the Nebraska 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.
“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.
Determined Activists Launch New Legalization Effort
That led the blocked initiative’s supporters, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, to launch a new initiative campaign in September of last year. The new amendment proposal contains simple and concise language in order to help the initiative pass muster with the courts.
“Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes,” the measure reads.
The new medical marijuana initiative is co-sponsored by State Sens. Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld, co-chairs of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana. This time around, the simple constitutional amendment will be coupled with statutory initiatives to regulate cannabis.
“Families with loved ones suffering from conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s and cancer have fought for years to make medical cannabis safely accessible in our state as it is in 33 other states,” Wishart said in September. “We will not give up and intend to bring this fight to the Legislature in January with a bill that I will introduce and to the ballot in 2022.”
In December, Wishart and Morfeld announced that they would also introduce ballot language for full legalization of marijuana, including recreational use. The lawmakers said that they were encouraged by the success of cannabis reform in neighboring South Dakota, where both medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis were legalized in November’s election.
“People in rural, conservative areas are open-minded about not only medical marijuana but recreational use,” Morfeld said last month.
On Thursday, Morfeld said that passage of legalization in the Legislature will not be an easy sell. But debate over the measures could help educate lawmakers and the public.
“It’s important that we have multiple approaches,” Morfeld said. “If we can’t get it passed in the Legislature, we’ll collect another 125,000 signatures to get it on the ballot.”