Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana met the signature requirement last year to place a medical cannabis legalization measure on the state’s 2020 ballot, but the group’s victory was short-lived after the Nebraska Supreme Court struck down the measure before Election Day.
Now, Jared Moffat, who has worked on the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana campaign through his role as a campaigns coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the campaign is retooling its efforts with plans to put the issue on the 2022 ballot.
“It’s been a long journey, that’s for sure,” Moffat told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary. “After the Supreme Court kicked us off the ballot last year, the campaign committee wanted to respond and signal to everyone that we weren’t giving up.”
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana filed a single-sentence constitutional initiative for the 2022 ballot, hoping to avoid a similar legal challenge as last year, when opponents argued that the ballot language included more than one question, thus violating the single-subject rule outlined in the Nebraska Constitution.
Meanwhile, the campaign supported a medical cannabis legalization bill in the Legislature during the 2021 session that ultimately received 31 of the 33 votes needed to pass.
“Immediately following the defeat in the Legislature, everyone started regrouping around the ballot issue,” Moffat said, adding that MPP raised concerns during these discussions about whether a constitutional initiative was the right path for the campaign. “Obviously, the last thing any of us want is to do all this work again and collect all these signatures only to be thwarted again by a court. Given the fact that all these other court challenges have been coming out in other states like South Dakota and Mississippi and Florida, … we felt … it would be irresponsible to not take some time and meditate on and research the legal challenges we could run into with our ballot initiative.”
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has spent several months working with attorneys and other legal experts to develop new initiatives, which should be ready to file with the state in the coming weeks.
Then, the campaign will launch its volunteer-driven signature gathering efforts ahead of a July 7, 2022, deadline to submit signatures to the state. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana needs roughly 87,000 valid signatures for a statutory initiative and roughly 124,000 for a constitutional initiative.
Moffat likened a statutory initiative to the Legislature passing a bill, but a two-thirds majority is required for lawmakers to overturn or amend voter-approved initiatives. A voter-approved constitutional initiative could only be changed by Nebraskan voters.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is carefully watching the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and Moffat said volunteers may wear masks and provide hand sanitizer while gathering signatures. Overall, though, he is optimistic that the campaign can once again meet the signature threshold to qualify its initiative for the ballot.
“If anything, people are more fired up because of the court case last year,” Moffat said. “We don’t want to be overconfident. It’s going to be a lot of work for sure, but I think that given the level of support and how many volunteers and people are interested in helping, we’re going to be in great shape to get it done.”
And the political climate in the state seems to be shifting, he added. While Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts remains largely opposed to cannabis policy reform (he told reporters earlier this year that “if you legalize marijuana, you’re gonna kill your kids”), legislators are starting to support the issue, as evidenced by the narrow defeat of the medical cannabis legalization bill earlier this year.
"We picked up some steam there,” Moffat said. “People are getting ready for the 2022 elections and frankly, we’re hearing from folks that are running that they don’t really want to come out against this issue. Even if they are [opposed], they’re taking a more muted approach, either not saying anything or deferring and saying, ‘Well, we’ll see what the voters do.’ So, my sense is that, while you still have Ricketts out there saying what he’s saying, I think overall, the political climate has shifted in our favor, and there’s less opposition to this issue.”
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has not conducted any recent polling, but Moffat said a new poll may be unnecessary at this point.
“There’s a feeling that we don’t really need to do polling because support is so high for medical that we’re going to win,” he said. “We just need to get on the ballot and survive legal challenges."