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Nebraska Senator Introduces Amendment to Legalize Recreational Cannabis

A Nebraskan senator submitted a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would legalize adult-use cannabis. If approved by the legislature, Sen. Justin Wayne’s proposed amendment would be on the ballot in 2022 for voters to decide upon.

If a majority of voters supported the ballot measure, then Wayne’s proposal – Legislative Resolution 2CA – would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, and compel lawmakers to pass enabling legislation to put the constitutional amendment into effect by October 1, 2023.

The possibility of a legislature-approved 2022 ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana follows a failed attempt to put a medical cannabis legalization question – the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Constitutional Amendment (NMCCA) – on the ballot at the last election. Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen confirmed the petition submitted by medical marijuana reform activists had qualified for the ballot but this decision was then subject to a legal challenge from Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner. His legal team filed a lawsuit arguing the question should be removed from the ballot on the basis it contained misleading language and violated the state’s ‘one initiative, one subject’ rule by including provisions pertaining to retail sales and home cultivation.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled 5 to 2 in favor of the plaintiff.

“If voters are to intelligently adopt a State policy with regard to medicinal cannabis use, they must first be allowed to decide that issue alone, unencumbered by other subjects,” the court wrote in its opinion. “As proposed, the NMCCA contains more than one subject—by our count, it contains at least eight subjects.”

Bob Evnen then withdrew the NMCCA from the November 2020 ballot.

That setback led the group behind the ballot measure – Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana – to start a new campaign to get another medical marijuana question, with simpler language, on the 2022 ballot.

“Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes,” the current proposal reads.

The new campaign is supported by Sens. Anna Wishart and Adam Morfield, who also sit as co-chairs at Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana. Taking inspiration from South Dakota’s vote to legalize medical and recreational cannabis on Election Day, they’re reportedly weighing up whether to include language in the ballot proposal for full marijuana legalization rather than just for medical purposes.

“People in rural, conservative areas are open-minded about not only medical marijuana but recreational use,” Morfield said.

Whether Nebraskan lawmakers are quite so open-minded is another question. The GOP control the legislature, while Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson are also Republicans, and none of the above have shown much interest in marijuana reform.

Morfield is aware of the opposition he faces, but believes the debate over his and other marijuana reform proposals will, at a minimum, help mobilize voters.

“It’s important that we have multiple approaches,” Morfield said. “If we can’t get it passed in the Legislature, we’ll collect another 125,000 signatures to get it on the ballot.”

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