A Nebraska senator is kicking off the start of the new session with another attempt to finally legalize medical marijuana in the state.
Sen. Anna Wishart (D) has been fighting to enact the reform over the past several years, pursuing medical cannabis legalization both through the legislature and activist-led ballot campaigns.
Now she’s filed a new bill to provide patients with certain conditions access to marijuana if they receive a doctor’s recommendation. It appears to largely mirror a revised version of legislation that advanced in committee in 2021 but ultimately stalled out in the GOP-controlled unicameral legislature.
“I am here yet again, bringing one of the most conservative medical cannabis bills in the nation, in an attempt to bring patients in our state the care they deserve,” Wishart said in a press release on Tuesday. “Growing evidence shows that this plant not only has medicinal values for reducing seizures and relieving pain, but it can help reduce the need for opioid use. It is long past time that Nebraskans have access to a far safer alternative medicine.”
The bill calls for a system of medical cannabis dispensaries where people could purchase and possess up to two and a half ounces of marijuana for therapeutic use if they have one of 16 eligible conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS and chronic pain.
Smoking cannabis would be prohibited under the legislation, and patients would not be able to grow their own plants.
To that end, it’s a fairly restrictive reform proposal—but that’s likely a necessity given the political makeup of the legislature. Nebraska Republicans who have resisted medical cannabis legalization expanded their majority after last year’s election, making the path for the bill even murkier.
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But advocates don’t plan to sit on their hands as lawmakers decide what, if anything, they’re willing to do to address the issue. They’re weighing a 2024 ballot push to let voters decide on medical and recreational marijuana after facing a series of setbacks last year.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM), which Wishart co-chairs, turned in about 90,000 raw signatures to put the reform on last year’s ballot through a pair of complementary initiatives, but state officials announced in August that the verification process showed they came up short.
Activists also lost subsequent appeals that challenged the state’s ballot signature rules.
Part of the problem last year was the loss of critical funding. NMM’s Crista Eggers later said that the campaign will be considering pivoting to adult-use legalization for the 2024 ballot, which could attract more deep-pocketed donors to help them cross the finish line.
“We have continued to show up year after year, begging and pleading for help for our children and loved ones. There’s no question that voters in Nebraska believe in helping the suffering in our state,” Eggers said on Tuesday. “Hundreds of thousands of people have signed in support of this issue, and I hope that lawmakers will finally listen. If they have any conscience, they will pass a compassionate law this session. If not, we will once again go to the people. There is one thing we will not do, and that is give up.”
Nebraska activists had previously collected enough valid signatures for a medical cannabis legalization initiative for 2020, but the state Supreme Court invalidated it over a single-subject challenge.
The campaign also faced resistance from then-Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), a staunch opponent of legalization. In 2021, he partnered with the prohibitionist group SAM Nebraska on an ad urging residents to oppose cannabis reform in the state. Ricketts has now been appointed to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat by current Gov. Jim Pillen (R).
In 2019, Nebraska’s then-attorney general argued in an opinion that efforts to legalize medical marijuana legislatively in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.