Despite the heavy lift associated with losing major donors and challenging a constitutional signature gathering statute, a group of medical cannabis legalization advocates indicated major strides this week in Nebraska.
Proponents of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM), a grassroots effort to place two medical cannabis legalization initiatives on the state’s November ballot, announced June 2 they doubled their signature count—to roughly 40,000 for each measure—in just the past two weeks.
State Sen. Anna Wishart, D-Lincoln, a co-sponsor of the petitions, also announced Thursday that the group raised $50,000, recruited more than 100 paid volunteer circulators to help collect signatures and qualified 15 of Nebraska’s 93 counties also in just the past two weeks.
The group has until July 7 to gather roughly 87,000 valid signatures from registered voters for each measure to qualify for the ballot. Wishart told the Lincoln Journal Star the group is on track to hit that deadline.
“We are really pulling together a campaign,” she said, “and we’ve got a ton of people who have gotten out of the house to come grab a petition and collect signatures.”
That progress comes on the heels of NMM losing two of its biggest donors from its 2020 election push, when the group collected the required signatures for that year’s ballot only to have the Nebraska Supreme Court rule that the petition violated the single-subject rule in the state Constitution.
Since then, one campaign donor died in a plane crash and another was diagnosed with a terminal illness, leaving the group well short of the $1 million proponents hoped to have at their disposal for gathering signatures, Cannabis Business Times reported last month.
In addition, NMM filed a lawsuit last month challenging the state’s constitutional statute that requires petitions contain signatures from 5% of registered voters in each of 38 of the state’s less-populated counties. The group’s supporters argue that the 5% rule establishes political power in rural areas of the state, The Associated Press reported.
Regrouping after the 2020 Supreme Court ruling, one of NMM’s 2022 petitions aims to add one line to the state Constitution that provides for a “right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes.” The 2020 initiative violated the single-subject rule in that it aimed to provide the right to possess, grow, sell and use medical cannabis, according to BallotPedia.org.
The group’s other petition aims to protect qualifying patients and their caregivers from arrest for the use of medical cannabis as recommended by a doctor.
Nebraska is one of 13 states where medical cannabis without low-THC restrictions remains illegal. Under current state laws and penalties, possessing 1 ounce to 1 pound of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by up to three months of incarceration and a $500 fine.
Nicole Hochstein, a regional volunteer coordinator for NMM, is the mother of a pre-teen diagnosed with epilepsy.
“It is frustrating that politicians have ignored the will of the people and denied my son and thousands of other patients the compassion they deserve,” she said in a statement in late 2021, when NMM announced its 2022 campaign launch.
“But this ballot campaign provides hope to families like ours,” Hochstein said. “We are seeing democracy in action today, and I look forward to talking with hundreds of more Nebraskans … and asking them to sign these two very important initiatives.”