An appeals court has sided with the state of Nebraska in medical cannabis advocates’ legal battle to ease the state’s ballot requirements.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request Aug. 31 to temporarily block part of Nebraska’s ballot initiative petition process that requires petitioners to gather signatures of 7% of registered voters—and at least 5% of voters in at least 38 of the state’s 93 counties—in order to enact a statute, according to the Associated Press.
The lawsuit, filed in May by Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, sought to overturn the 5% requirement, which some have argued gives disproportionate power to the state’s smallest counties.
A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in the case in June to block the Nebraska Secretary of State from enforcing the 5% rule, but state officials immediately responded with plans to appeal the decision.
The 8th Circuit put a hold on the federal judge’s order until it could rule on the state’s appeal, which a split panel of the 8th Circuit did Wednesday, AP reported.
“On balance, the preliminary-injunction factors clearly weigh in the Secretary’s favor,” U.S. Circuit Judge Raymond Gruender wrote in the decision, according to the news outlet. “The district court abused its discretion by granting the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction.”
Judge Jane Kelly wrote in a dissent that “if the right to vote is fundamental, I see no reason why it should not apply equally to the initiative process at the heart of Nebraska’s electoral and legislative system,” AP reported.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana collected the required number of valid signatures to get its medical cannabis legalization measure before voters in the 2020 election, but the Nebraska Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the ballot initiative violated the single-subject ruled outlined in the state constitution.
The group then filed two new medical cannabis initiatives for the November 2022 election, and had to collect roughly 87,000 valid signatures by July 7 to qualify the measures for the ballot.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana submitted over 90,000 signatures by the deadline, but the Nebraska Secretary of State announced last month that the group fell short on valid signatures to qualify its measures for the November ballot.
Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen issued a statement following Wednesday’s appeals court decision, saying his office “will continue to enforce that Nebraska constitutional provision pending the final outcome of the case,” according to AP.
Daniel Gutman, an Omaha-based attorney representing Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana in the case, said that “the effort to protect voters’ rights would continue” and that the plaintiffs could ask the full 8th Circuit to weigh in, according to the news outlet.
“This issue has obviously divided judges,” Gutman told AP. “So, we’ve put up a pretty strong fight so far.”