• November 28, 2020

After 2020 Legal Defeat, Nebraska Marijuana Activists Launch 2022 Battle Early

 After 2020 Legal Defeat, Nebraska Marijuana Activists Launch 2022 Battle Early

Social distancing while signing up support. Image via Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana

After suffering a stunning, last-minute legal defeat this September, medical marijuana activists in Nebraska are already fighting to get cannabis on the state’s ballot in the 2022 midterm elections.

As coronavirus hit the US this spring, members of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana were forced to finish their signature drive in the midst of the global pandemic. Still, they found widespread support for their ballot initiative. They netted over 190,000 signatures from the state’s rural districts and progressive-leaning cities alike. Still, the state’s conservative-leaning Supreme Court tossed the measure off the ballot. 

As of Saturday, the group was back at it. By 8 in the morning, State Sen. Anna Wishart (D), along with a black-and-white doggy, was posted up in front of Tavern on the Square in Lincoln, ready to collect signatures.  

“We were serious when we said we will not stop until cannabis is legal for our sick and suffering Nebraska friends and family,” the group wrote on Facebook. “Together we collected over 190,000 signatures across the state during a global pandemic, and we can do it again.”

There’s no doubt that Nebraska’s prohibitionist legislators – including Governor Pete Ricketts (R), who earlier this year claimed that “there is no such thing as medical marijuana” – will fight the initiative every step of the way. 

Even though the initiative had been certified to appear on the November ballot that didn’t stop former-Nebraska Republican Party Chair Mark Fahleson and anti-pot sheriff Terry Wagner from filing a lawsuit against the group. They claimed consuming and producing medical marijuana  are two separate issues that can’t be combined into a single ballot initiative. The conservative Nebraska Supreme Court agreed. Their decision wasn’t merely a painful loss for the campaign but a disturbing reality-check that partisan judges are willing to undermine the voice of the people when they seek to change cannabis policy through the ballot initiative process. 

“I am concerned that today’s decision has squeezed the concept of single subject…such that the people’s right to initiative has been diminished,” Nebraska Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Papik wrote in his dissent.

Matthew Schweich, the deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, was even more explicit: “Our opponents are cowards,” he said in a statement at the time.

Yet in the six weeks since their painful defeat, the leaders of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana – state Senators Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D), and the brazen conservative former state Senator Tommy Garrett (R) – have regrouped, assessed their setbacks, crafted a new plan and launched a new campaign to pass medical marijuana in the 2022 midterm elections. 

By the end of September, the group had already filed language for a revised petition. Last Thursday, they began printing the petitions for 2022. In order to avoid another “single subject” legal pitfall – and following the lead of successful gambling initiatives – they’ve greatly simplified the language of the initiative itself. It reads, in its entirety, as follows: “Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes.”

This time, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana advocates say they know what they’re up against.

“Make no mistake, our opposition will continue to try to stop our efforts, but we cannot give up,” the group wrote. “The patients and families of this state who are suffering without safe access to medical cannabis are worth fighting for, and that’s what we intend to keep doing.”

Max Savage Levenson

Max Savage Levenson

Max Savage Levenson is a writer and podcast producer living in Missoula, MT. His work has appeared in outlets including Pitchfork, NPR Music, Leafly and the San Francisco Chronicle. He has released precisely one hip-hop album.

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