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Oof: Nebraska medical marijuana measures won’t appear on ballot, again

Earlier today, August 22, Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen (R) announced that the state’s pair of medical marijuana initiatives failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Monday’s news marks the second defeat in two years for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, a group led by State Senators Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D). In 2020, the state’s Supreme Court overturned their otherwise successful ballot initiative on bogus grounds, forcing them to launch this year’s campaign. (Legalization opponents argued that the 2020 initiative “caused confusion” and violated a state law that limits any initiative to a single issue. They held that using medical marijuana and growing it for sale were two separate issues. The state high court agreed.) 

The 2022 campaign needed roughly 87,000 valid signatures for each of the two measures; both fell short by about 10,000.

Furthermore, each campaign was required to gather a number of signatures equal to five percent of all registered voters in at least 38 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. The two measures only hit that threshold in 26 and 27 counties, respectively.

“Today, the Nebraska Secretary of State announced that our effort to relieve the pain of so many suffering Nebraskans did not meet the minimum qualifications of verified signatures to end up on the November ballot. To say we are devastated would be an understatement,” the campaign wrote on Facebook.

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Nebraska high court kills 2020 medical marijuana initiative

Bad luck and bad actors in state government

The announcement concludes a campaign beset by tragedy, bad luck, and insurmountable political obstacles. 

In the past few months, one prominent donor to the group died, and another was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Furthermore, last month a federal appeals court ruled that Nebraska’s county-based signature requirements are in fact legal, despite a contrary ruling from a lower court.

Throughout the two campaigns, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) has actively fought against medical marijuana legalization. In 2020, he told reporters that “there is no such thing as medical marijuana.” 

Last year, Ricketts claimed that medical marijuana is a “dangerous drug that will impact our kids,” and that “if you legalize marijuana, you’re gonna kill your kids. That’s what the data shows from around the country.” 

The data from around the country does not, in fact, show that. Nebraska is one of only 11 states that have not legalized the medical use of marijuana. In some states, medical cannabis has been legal for more than a quarter-century. 

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Regrouping for 2024

In the same Facebook post recognizing their defeat, the campaign announced that they will immediately begin planning for 2024.

“But there is no giving up,” they wrote. “When we receive the results from the Secretary of State’s office, we will analyze the data and then we will immediately get to work on qualifying for the 2024 ballot.”

As of this morning, the campaign had already launched a web page to gather donations for their next, and hopefully final, campaign to bring medical marijuana to Nebraska.

“Suffering Nebraskans should never be faced with having to move themselves or their families out of the state they call home just to have access to health care,” they wrote.

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Max Savage Levenson

Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.

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