Nebraska’s voters may soon have the fate of state-wide medicinal cannabis in their hands. That is, if the campaign behind the ballot initiative has anything to do with it. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has been scrambling for as many last-minute signatures as possible, and Jared Moffat, the campaigns coordinator working on Nebraska’s campaign with the Marijuana Policy Project, described the mood surrounding the final effort as “Chickens with their heads cut off, something like that.”
Today, the campaign submitted more than 182,000 of the roughly 121,000 signatures required by the July 2 deadline to get the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Constitutional Amendment on the November ballot. It hasn’t been an easy road—for the Nebraska campaign or other states’ legalization efforts—even with campaign contributions and resources from groups like the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC.
Even with signatures in, the state must still certify the signatures and the campaign must field potential challenges to their validity. “I don’t think we should assume the opposition is just going to let this go through without challenges, but I’m still pretty confident that we’re going to make it,” Moffat told Cannabis Wire. “Folks are very happy today. I think it’s certainly a massive accomplishment, regardless of what ends up happening.”
When state Senator Anna Wishart’s bill to legalize medical cannabis—the fourth she introduced since being elected in 2016—failed to gain traction in the state legislature last year, she and other supporters in the legislature changed tactics and aimed for a ballot initiative instead. Former state Senator Tommy Garrett had introduced legislation in support of medical cannabis three times before that.
“The bulk is what I’m worried about, just the overall number, because doing this in the middle of a pandemic definitely does make it harder to get in front of people in a safe way,” Wishart, who is a co-chair of the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana campaign committee along with state Senator Adam Morfeld, told Cannabis Wire.
If the signature count is enough, voters will be able to choose “yes” or “no” on their ballots for a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would provide Nebraskans the right to access, use, possess, and produce cannabis for serious medical conditions with approval from a doctor or nurse practitioner. The amendment language itself is brief, and leaves the regulatory details to the state legislature, where lawmakers would have a chance to introduce cannabis legislation in the winter if the amendment passes.
So far, the push looks promising. Wishart said the group commissioned a poll from McLaughlin and Associates that estimated 76% of Nebraskans support medical cannabis. For a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, Nebraska requires signatures from 10% of the number of the voters in the state overall, and 5% of voters from at least 38 of their 93 counties must sign as well, based on votes cast from the last gubernatorial general election.
Crista Eggers, a Nebraskan and mother of a five-year-old son with intractable epilepsy, said that she was moved to help with the campaign because of her son’s condition. She said that two other parents told her that they were able to stop their child’s grand mal seizure with a few drops of cannabis oil under the tongue, and from then on she hoped to be able to provide a similar remedy for her own son.
“It’s the most devastating thing when you are watching your child go through something and be suffering, but yet nothing that you’re doing is helping them,” she told Cannabis Wire. “And this has definitely given my husband and I a voice, standing up for our son and saying, ‘We’re doing this to help him.’ Not only him, but so many others.”
Not everyone wants medical cannabis in the state. Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has opposed medical cannabis, and has vowed to veto any legislation making cannabis legal. In a statement from his office, he wrote, “In Nebraska, marijuana proponents have been trying to circumvent the medical research process that has helped our country produce the most safe and effective healthcare in the world. This is the wrong approach. We should stick with the tried-and-true system, which is already doing research on what components of marijuana actually have medical benefits.”
One opposition group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana’s Nebraska branch, highlights on their website what they say is evidence of potential harm to adolescents, impaired driving, and the influence of “Big Tobacco” in medical cannabis.
“All that is, is just an ad hominem, slanderous attack to undermine credibility, but it has no real basis.” said Moffat.