Medical marijuana could appear on 2020 ballot in Nebraska

Published 12-13-2018

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska voters may get the chance to decide a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2020 if lawmakers don't approve one in the session that starts next month.

State Sens. Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld, both of Lincoln, announced the formation Thursday of Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, a committee primed to launch a signature-gathering campaign.

Wishart said the group plans to draft language for a constitutional amendment and will start fundraising and conducting public opinion research. Similar measures won approval this year in Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah, bringing the total to 33 states that have legalized the drug for medicinal purposes.

"We arrived at this place because we haven't seen any action by the Legislature," Wishart said after filing paperwork to form the committee.

Nebraska's nonpartisan but Republican-dominated Legislature has repeatedly rejected attempts to legalize medical marijuana, with some lawmakers painting it as a gateway to allowing recreational use and noting that some of the claimed benefits aren't proven.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson oppose it as well, but Wishart said she still plans to introduce a bill this year in hopes that policymakers will give it another chance before her group takes it to voters.

Advocates in Nebraska have increasingly turned to voters in recent years to bypass the Legislature. Voters adopted a minimum wage increase in 2014 and a Medicaid expansion last month after lawmakers rejected both proposals. They also reinstated capital punishment in 2015 after lawmakers voted to abolish it.

Morfeld, who played a major role in the Medicaid expansion campaign, said patients with chronic illnesses shouldn't have to wait any longer for the relief they can get through medical marijuana. People with epilepsy, severe muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and other conditions have reported benefits from use of the drug, although groups such as the Nebraska Medical Association have said more studies are needed.

"It's now time for Nebraska voters to decide this issue," Morfeld said.

The group has r

Advocates in Nebraska have increasingly turned to voters in recent years to bypass the Legislature. Voters adopted a minimum wage increase in 2014 and a Medicaid expansion last month after lawmakers rejected both proposals. They also reinstated capital punishment in 2015 after lawmakers voted to abolish it.

Morfeld, who played a major role in the Medicaid expansion campaign, said patients with chronic illnesses shouldn't have to wait any longer for the relief they can get through medical marijuana. People with epilepsy, severe muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and other conditions have reported benefits from use of the drug, although groups such as the Nebraska Medical Association have said more studies are needed.

"It's now time for Nebraska voters to decide this issue," Morfeld said.

The group has received backing from the Marijuana Policy Project, a leading national group that has helped lead five successful marijuana-related ballot measures in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and Utah.

Matthew Schweich, the Marijuana Policy Project's deputy director, said he's highly confident the measure would pass in Nebraska given his experience in other conservative states.

"There are people who suffer from serious conditions who have tried other things and not found relief," he said. "For us to treat those people as criminals is heartless."

Schweich said his group wouldn't be dedicating its time, expertise and money to the Nebraska campaign if it didn't believe the measure had a good chance, but he still hopes lawmakers address the issue in the upcoming session.

"It would mean relief and access sooner for patients," he said. "We wouldn't have to wage a long and expensive campaign for something the people of Nebraska already support."

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Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte

"It's now time for Nebraska voters to decide this issue," Morfeld said.

The group has received backing from the Marijuana Policy Project, a leading national group that has helped lead five successful marijuana-related ballot measures in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and Utah.

Matthew Schweich, the Marijuana Policy Project's deputy director, said he's highly confident the measure would pass in Nebraska given his experience in other conservative states.

"There are people who suffer from serious conditions who have tried other things and not found relief," he said. "For us to treat those people as criminals is heartless."

Schweich said his group wouldn't be dedicating its time, expertise and money to the Nebraska campaign if it didn't believe the measure had a good chance, but he still hopes lawmakers address the issue in the upcoming session.

"It would mean relief and access sooner for patients," he said. "We wouldn't have to wage a long and expensive campaign for something the people of Nebraska already support."

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Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte

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