Nebraska activists launched a fundraising effort on Wednesday to support their push to get a pair of medical marijuana legalization initiatives on the state’s 2024 ballot.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) has already started circulating petitions and says it has met signature threshold requirements in two counties as of late August. Wednesday’s kickoff event in Lincoln was partly meant to help the campaign overcome one of the key challenges it faced last year: the loss of critical funding after a key donor’s death in a plane crash.
This marks the third time NMM has worked to put the reform measure before voters, and activists say they remain optimistic they’ll have the grassroots support and resources to make it across the finish line this round.
“There was never a question that we would come back for a third time. This issue is not one we can give up on; it’s people’s lives we are fighting for,” the campaign’s manager, Crista Eggers, said in a press release on Wednesday. “We started collecting earlier than we ever have, ensuring we have time on our side. We know that Nebraskans want to see this on the ballot, and we are going to do just that.”
The fundraising event on Wednesday highlighted some of the activists, patients and caregivers who’ve been involved in the medical cannabis effort so far, as well as Eggers and NMM co-chairs Sen. Anna Wishart (D) and former Sen. Adam Morfeld (D).
“There are people that have loved ones that are still here and suffering today, and that’s why we get up and do this every single day,” Morfeld said at Wednesday’s meetup, according to the Nebraska Examiner.
The campaign has set an ambitious goal of collecting signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in 38 counties by the end of the year. So far, they’ve checked off two counties. The plan now is to use the fundraising kickoff to recruit more volunteers, distribute campaign materials and lay out the strategy for activists.
Wishart said that if they don’t get all of the counties by the year’s end, they aim to at least get a “huge chunk.”
In order to make the November 2024 ballot, the campaign will need to collect about 87,000 total valid signatures from registered voters for each petition—in addition to meeting the county goal—and turn them in by July 5, 2024.
The first of the initiatives would require lawmakers to codify protections for doctors who recommend cannabis and patients who purchase and possess it—essentially creating qualified immunity. The patient-focused measure says its aim is to “enact a statute that makes penalties inapplicable under state and local law for the use, possession, and acquisition of limited quantities of cannabis for medical purposes by a qualified patient with a written recommendation from a health care practitioner, and for a caregiver to assist a qualified patient in these activities.”
The other initiative would create a new Nebraska Medical Cannabis Commission to provide “necessary registration and regulation of persons that possess, manufacture, distribute, deliver, and dispense cannabis for medical purposes.”
For what it’s worth, Gov. Jim Pillen (R) voiced opposition to cannabis reform in a new statement, saying that “access to medical marijuana should only happen if it has undergone the FDA-approved process.”
Legalization “poses demonstrated harms to our children,” he said.
But Eggers, the NMM campaign manager, says she is fighting to help children like her son, who suffers from a severe seizure disorder and could benefit from medical cannabis.
“I know what is killing my child, and that is having horrific seizures daily for the last five, six years,” she said.
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One of the earlier campaigns gathered enough signatures for ballot placement in 2020, but the measure was invalidated by the state Supreme Court following a single-subject challenge. Supporters then came up short on signatures for revised petitions due in large part to the loss of funding after one of their key donor died in a plane crash.
Nebraska lawmakers, including campaign co-chair Wishart, have also attempted to enact the reform legislatively, but cannabis bills have consistently stalled out in the conservative legislature.
Wishart’s medical cannabis bill received a hearing in the unicameral Judiciary Committee in February, but it did not advance. She attributed the inaction to changes in committee membership. An earlier version of the measure ultimately stalled out in the GOP-controlled legislature amid a filibuster that supporters could not overcome.
The senator said that there’s a “ticking clock” around her reform legislation this session, with “one more shot” to get it done before she’s termed out next year.
“I don’t see any chance of the bill passing, so we’re going to go with the ballot drive,” Wishart said.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
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