Nebraskans For Medical Marijuana hope to find out by mid-August if enough of the more than 182,000 signatures they submitted July 2 are valid to qualify for a ballot initiative this November.
The campaign submitted well over the roughly 121,000 signatures required to put the constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis in front of Nebraska voters, and collected signatures from all of the state’s 93 counties, according to the campaign. Now, state and local officials will review the signatures and must verify a certain percentage of them to move forward, says Jared Moffat, who has worked on the campaign for more than a year through his role as campaigns coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has supported the Nebraska campaign with staff time.
“There is definitely a possibility there will be some challenges to some of our signatures from the opposition who doesn’t want this to appear in the ballot. It’s still very early in the process,” Moffat says. “We’re all hopeful and we’re feeling good, but we’re not quite at the place of feeling great about being on the ballot just yet.”
The advocates were required to collect signatures from at least 5% of voters in a minimum of 38 counties in Nebraska, Moffat says. Moffat said they wouldn’t have been able to meet that minimum – especially considering they needed to gather in-person signatures during a pandemic – without the efforts from passionate volunteers, who collected about 33,000 signatures.
“We couldn’t just focus all of our efforts in the densely populated cities like Omaha and Lincoln,” Moffat says. “We wouldn’t have qualified – assuming we do qualify – it wouldn’t have happened without an enormous amount of work done by the volunteers and that grassroots component of the campaign.”
Moffat also noted that without State Sen. Anna Wishart’s efforts, who serves as co-chair of the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana campaign committee, the campaign would not have met its goal.
“Families with loved ones suffering from conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, and cancer have fought for years to make medical cannabis safely accessible. Today represents a huge step forward for thousands of Nebraskans who deserve compassion,” Sen. Wishart said in a July 2 press release announcing the signatures had been submitted. “We are confident that we’ve met the requirements for ballot qualification, and after seeing the outpouring of support for our petition, we’re even more confident that Nebraska’s voters will approve this initiative in November.”
Volunteers and paid circulators were stationed at about 75 locations – from law offices to CBD shops to bars – and the campaign website included a map of where citizens could go if they were interested in signing the petition, Moffat says. Signature collectors also supported the issue through events in driveways, gas stations and nearby rodeos.
“It’s a challenge obviously finding good locations where there are a lot of people and also able to maintain social distance,” Moffat says.
Assuming the initiative qualifies on the ballot and voters approve the constitutional amendment, the next challenge will be to determine what a medical cannabis program looks like in Nebraska.
The constitutional amendment only establishes the right of patients to access medical cannabis from their doctors and authorizes the legislature to establish regulations governing the sale, production and distribution of medical cannabis. The details will have to be worked out later, Moffat says.
“Fortunately and hopefully we have enough signatures to qualify, but it made it much more challenging to get on the ballot, but the reason [advocates] wanted to go the route of having a constitutional initiative is the legislature can’t just ignore it,” Moffat says. “If this passes, it becomes part of the Nebraska constitution. We think the legislature, if this passes, they are going to feel not only a mandate from the voters but also a constitutional responsibility to implement what’s now in the constitution. [But] that’s a battle for another day. We have to make sure it’s on the ballot and make sure it passes.”
Barry Rubin, president of Heartland Strategy Group based in Omaha, also spearheaded the signature gathering effort, which was stalled and threatened due to COVID-19.
“This was a herculean effort that overcame tremendous challenges, including a pandemic that severely impacted our ability to collect signatures on the original timeline,” Rubin said in a press release. “In the coming months, we will be making the case to voters that establishing a system of safe access for medical cannabis, as 33 other states have done, will be tremendously beneficial for the people of Nebraska.”