The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled the proposed medical marijuana legalization question on the state’s ballot is unconstitutional and as such it will not be put to voters this November. The court’s decision came one day before the state’s deadline to include measures on the upcoming ballot.
The proposed initiative – the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Constitutional Amendment (NMCCA) – was subjected to a legal challenge on the basis that it violated the state’s single-subject rule which requires a ballot question demanding a yes-no answer may only concern one issue.
The Secretary of State Robert Evnen initially dismissed the challenge but the plaintiff, a Lancaster County Sheriff, then took his case to the Supreme Court.
“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 decision. “As proposed, the NMCCA contains more than one subject—by our count, it contains at least eight subjects.”
“We reverse the Secretary of State’s decision and issue a writ of mandamus directing him to withhold the initiative from the November 2020 general election ballot,” the court states.
The proposed ballot measure was the result of a petition drive that submitted nearly 200,000 verified signatures of registered voters who supported putting the question of medical cannabis legalization to Nebraskans this November. The signature-gathering effort was derailed by the coronavirus outbreak but the group, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, later relaunched the petition drive with social distancing measures in place.
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Evnen indicated he would remove the medical cannabis proposal from the ballot. Furthermore, the court ordered Evnen reinstate three gambling-related initiatives he had earlier said should not be included on the ballot.
“The Secretary of State is required by statute to issue determinations as to whether initiative petitions are legally sufficient. I did my best to make those determinations on a timely basis in accordance with law,” Evnen said in a statement. “Today the Supreme Court issued its decisions concerning these petitions. I respect the rule of law and I will certify the ballot in compliance with the Court’s orders.”
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana expressed their disappointment in a Facebook post.
“We just heard and the news is not good. Like all of you, we are absolutely devastated by the Supreme Court ruling. But this fight is not over. Nothing changes the fact that an overwhelming majority of Nebraskans stand with the patients and families who deserve compassion and safe access to medical cannabis,” the group wrote.
Two mothers whose sons both have epilepsy hoped the medical marijuana ballot initiative would mean their children could finally access the drug for treatment.
“192,000 people put their names on this ballot initiative saying they want the right to vote on this,” said Crista Eggers as told to KETV news.
“It’s beyond upsetting. This is literally our children’s lives at stake,” added Nicole Hochstein.
Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), an organization that has helped pass 13 medical cannabis laws across the country through ballot initiatives, had harsh words for the plaintiff and judges.
“Our opponents are cowards. This is an outrageous and deeply flawed decision by a group of activist judges. This ruling means that sick and suffering medical marijuana patients, including veterans, will continue to be criminals in Nebraska, when they try to live healthier lives,” Schweich wrote in a statement.
The Supreme Court’s decision, while disappointing for medical marijuana advocates, is perhaps not all that surprising. Measures to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska are strongly opposed by those whom Schweich describes as “political insiders.” The state’s top court’s ruling in some ways also echoes comments made last year by Nebraska’s attorney general when he said a legal medical marijuana industry would be unconstitutional.