Nebraskans are organizing to push marijuana reforms onto the ballot in 2020, which could continue to spread the cannabis legalization.
On Thursday, advocates announced that they had newly formed a campaign committee called Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws to lead the effort to legalize medical marijuana while also looking into other opportunities for reform.
Two Nebraska state senators, Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld, will be in charge of NSML’s work. The actual ballot initiative will propose an amendment to Nebraska’s constitution. The priority for the group right now is medical marijuana, and they filed their initial paperwork with Nebraska’s Secretary of State on Thursday morning to get the ball rolling.
“Today is the first step towards establishing a compassionate medical marijuana law for sick and suffering Nebraskans,” said Sen. Wishart, who has been the lead sponsor of medical marijuana bills in Nebraska for several years, in a statement. “Thirty-two states have already adopted effective medical marijuana laws, and Nebraska will soon be joining their ranks.”
Nebraskans these days are no strangers to marijuana. Those who drive can take I-80 most of the way to Denver, and on the opposite border, Missouri is now a medical cannabis state with a seemingly workable law.
“Elected officials have had their opportunity to take action and failed,” Sen. Morfeld, who helped lead the successful 2018 Medicaid Expansion ballot initiative in Nebraska, said in the same release as Sen. Wishart.
“Patients cannot wait any longer, and it’s now time for Nebraska voters to decide this issue,” he said.
In addition to a bipartisan local group helping the senators on the executive committee, Marijuana Policy Project deputy director Matthew Schweich will also lend a hand to the cause. Schweich has helped lead five successful marijuana-related ballot initiatives over the past two election cycles in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and Utah.
“The Marijuana Policy Project is excited to work with Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws in pursuit of marijuana policies that truly serve the interests of the people,” Schweich told Cannabis Now. “Medical marijuana is a bipartisan issue that enjoys strong support across the country, including in conservative states like Nebraska. We are confident this campaign will be successful at the ballot box in 2020.”
Right now, NSML is focused on a short-term future that includes drafting the proposed change in the ballot language, finding the money to put it on the ballot and getting input from the community.
Wishart worked earlier this year to try and get medical marijuana on the 2018 ballot. At the time, she released some polling numbers from last winter which showed 77 percent of those who responded to the poll said they would vote yes on a ballot question to allow medical cannabis. Interestingly enough, most of the respondents identified as Republicans with 29 percent identifying as Democrats.
“We are assembling steering committees to represent important groups across Nebraska, including potential medical marijuana patients and their families, public safety and criminal justice reform advocates, business leaders, and others,” Sen. Wishart said. “All will play a key role in guiding this campaign.”
While medical marijuana is the top priority, the fight won’t stop there.
“We will be conducting research to determine the level of support for additional reforms,” Sen. Morfeld said. “We are going to put forward an initiative that enjoys strong support from Nebraskans.”
And for many Nebraskans, these reforms are coming none too soon. The Nebraska Center for Justice Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha studied marijuana enforcement in the state over a five-year period, from 2009 to 2014. Researchers found that Nebraska’s marijuana arrest rate had increased by about 11 percent from 2013 to 2014 and that counties along the Colorado border, in the Panhandle and along I-80 had the highest rates of arrest in 2014. They also noted they had seen a larger spike in possession arrests than sales.
Under current laws, possession of less than an ounce in Nebraska is an infraction with a maximum $300 fine. On the second offense, it’s a misdemeanor that could land you five days in jail. Any type of sale or cultivation offense is a felony.
TELL US, do you live in a state where medical marijuana is legal and available?