Nebraska medical marijuana advocates surpass one of two key signature hurdles

Nebraska medical marijuana advocates surpass one of two key signature hurdles
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana petition circulator Marcie Reed, at left, helps Rachel Morfeld-Ayalon sign the ballot measures on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Lincoln. Morfeld-Ayalon’s husband, former State Sen. Adam Morfeld, watches in the background. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
May 19th, 2024 | Zach Wendling, Nebraska Examiner

LINCOLN — Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana announced Thursday it has likely crossed one of two significant hurdles as it tries to get the issue on the ballot  for the third straight election year. Crista Eggers, campaign manager of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana. Sept. 13, 2023.

Crista Eggers, campaign manager for the petition drive, said the group is confident it has collected the minimum required signatures for two petitions across at least 38 of the state’s 93 counties. That multicounty requirement is for at least 5% of voters in each county to sign.

“The finish line is absolutely in sight, but not without all hands on deck,” she said.

‘We need to come in strong’

Eggers declined to release the list of counties expected to qualify but said the campaign has at least 55,000 signatures on each of its petitions. Volunteers are now shifting their work to get at least 87,000 verified voter signatures on each petition before July 3. 

However, volunteers are seeking many more signatures over that threshold, and more counties, to provide a buffer against any challenges, Eggers said. Volunteers with Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana sort through boxes of petitions submitted just before a deadline in 2022 to submit signatures to qualify for the November ballot. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

For example, in 2020, the campaign gathered enough signatures and passed the multicounty requirement but the measure was kicked off the ballot because it wasn’t a “single subject.” In 2022, the group tried again but fell short in gathering overall signatures and for qualifying counties.

This is why the effort kicked off earlier this time, with two petitions: one that would protect patients and caregivers and another that would set the regulatory environment for medical cannabis.

“We cannot come in here just crossing the finish line — we need to come in strong,” Eggers said. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us in the next 50 days.”

‘A really great beginning’

Last month featured one of the group’s largest pushes, with 45 events across the state in 22 counties on April 20, a date that holds significance for advocates of marijuana. The events stretched from Alliance in western Nebraska to Nebraska City, near the Iowa border.

Eggers said those events spread visibility as she and others fight for their loved ones or for themselves. Patients bear the weight of pressing for legalization, she said, “which is absolutely wrong.”

“It should not take mothers of sick children and individuals who have spouses on hospice at home,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to be out gathering these signatures, but that is the reality, and this is how important it is for all of these individuals.” Lisa Post, at left, holds a Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana T-shirt beside Trisha Petersen on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, on Lincoln, Neb. The two became best friends during the campaign. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Lia Post of Springfield, who is one of the original signature gatherers, says she is involved  with the petition campaign because she has a rare illness called complex regional pain syndrome.

“I think it’s a really great beginning,” Post said of Thursday’s milestone. “But we’re really far from the end, and I hope people get involved.”

Federal reclassification moves ahead

Thursday’s announcement came the same day the U.S. Justice Department formally moved ahead in reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug.

The Drug Enforcement Administration will next take public comment on the proposed shift, which would reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug, such as heroin and LSD, to a Schedule III substance, like ketamine and some anabolic steroids, which have medicinal properties.

Gov. Jim Pillen said in September that legalizing marijuana “poses demonstrated harms to our children” and that access to medical marijuana should only happen if it obtains approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Thirty-eight states have legalized medical marijuana while 24 of them, plus Washington, D.C., have also legalized recreational use. The other states, including Nebraska, allow limited access to cannabis products with little to no THC, according to the Pew Research Center.

Eggers said the reclassification doesn’t change what the Nebraska campaign is doing but underscores that what the advocates are doing is right.

“Now we know, without a doubt, that this is a medicine and patients in our state deserve this as a treatment option,” Eggers said. “We as a state have to make that stance, and we have to solidify that.”

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