nebraska medical marijuana bill legal challenge

State officials in Nebraska confirmed a measure to legalize medical marijuana garnered enough verified signatures to qualify for the November ballot but the proposal is now subject to a legal challenge by a local police official.

Last month, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana submitted almost 200,000 signatures in support of legal medical cannabis in the state – way more than the 121,669 necessary to qualify for the ballot, even though the signature-gathering effort was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If put to voters and approved, the measure would allow physicians to recommend cannabis to patients with debilitating medical conditions. Those patients would then be permitted to use, purchase and grow marijuana for personal use.

After confirming the measure had qualified, Secretary of State Robert Evnen then had a motion filed against him by a law firm representing Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner. The firm claimed the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule which ensures a ballot question may only concern one issue. They argued patient access to medical marijuana and the commercial production and distribution of medical marijuana are two separate issues conflated together in the ballot initiative. As such, the measure “causes confusion” and “creates doubt about what will be authorized after the election.”

Evnen, who had recently removed three gambling-related proposals from November’s ballot on the basis of the single-subject rule, dismissed the challenge. He refuted the claim that patient access to medical cannabis and commercial medical marijuana activity are two separate issues, arguing there is a “natural and necessary connection.”

“As with other legal medications, third parties are given the right to manufacture, sell and distribute the medications. It is inherent in the legalization of medical cannabis that someone or some category of persons must be granted the right or authority to produce, sell and distribute the medical cannabis,” Evnen wrote in his determination.

The law firm representing Sheriff Terry Wagner appealed Evnen’s decision, with Nebraska’s Supreme Court hearing the first oral arguments in the case earlier this month. After hearing the case for the plaintiff, the defendant’s counsel – which included Sens. Adam Morfield (D) and Anna Wishart (D) – contended the medical marijuana ballot initiative does not violate the single-subject rule and is comparable to prior measures brought before Nebraskan voters.

“The Nebraska Constitution provides the power of initiative is the first power reserved by the people. The power is precious,” the defendant’s attorney said in his closing remarks. “It is one which the courts are zealous to preserve the fullest tenable measure, spirit as well as letter.”

“Here over 192,000 Nebraskans petitioned to exercise their right to vote on the medical marijuana initiative,” he added. “This court should zealously protect the power of initiative, recall its alternative writ and allow the voters to decide this major issue on November 3.”

This isn’t Nebraska’s first brush with a law enforcement official attempting to thwart a medical marijuana initiative. Last year, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson published an opinion arguing a legal medical cannabis program would be unconstitutional.

The judges in Nebraska’s Supreme Court will decide whether the medical marijuana ballot measure violates the state’s single-subject rule on September 11 – the deadline by which initiatives for November’s ballot must be confirmed.

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