Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative Lawsuit Implications

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative

The Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative 2020 stood to amend the Nebraska Constitution. This amendment would have legalized medical marijuana in the state of Nebraska. Nebraska is one of eleven states that still has not legalized medical marijuana. The amendment stood to give power to the Nebraska State Legislature to create the laws around the state’s medical marijuana.

Initiative History

The state received the ballot initiative filing in February of 2020. The state then approved the petition’s language in March. Next, it came time to circulate the petition for signatures. Unfortunately, COVID-19 temporarily suspended the campaign at this point. Let The Voters Decide took on the job when it became safe enough to circulate again.

In a matter of three and a half weeks, the Let The Voters Decide team completed the signature-gathering job. July 2, 2020, was the deadline to submit signatures for a petition. The campaign turned in 182,000 signatures by the deadline.

The ballot initiative needed a total of 122, 274 to qualify. The initiative officially qualified on August 27, 2020, when the secretary of state verified 135,055 signatures. 

This should have been enough to get the Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative on the 2020 ballot. The petition stuck to all of the state’s rules, and the valid signatures exceeded the needed amount. At this point, the voters should have received the deciding power.

But the Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative won’t be on the 2020 ballot. The voters won’t get the chance to decide if they approve or not. On August 28, 2020 – just one day after the secretary of state announced the verified signatures – those against the initiative filed a lawsuit.

The Lawsuit

Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner filed suit because he claimed the initiative violated the state’s single-subject rule. This rule states that initiatives can only address a single subject. Many state officials believed the initiative and its language would be upheld. However, on September 10, 2020, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled against the initiative. This ruling removed the initiative from the ballot. 

Effects on the Initiative Process

This whole scenario creates issues.

First, it calls into question the entire initiative process. Ideally, the initiative process exists to give the people an opportunity to give the deciding power to voters. This decision violates that.

Second, it gives too much power to high-level officials. If a powerful official decides they don’t like an initiative, can they crush it before it ever gets to voters? What is the point of the initiative process even existing if the process isn’t upheld as it should be?

Third, it sets the precedent for lawsuits to keep important issues off the ballot in the future. Discouragement from how this case played out could keep citizens from even trying the initiative process in the future. Therefore, this decision puts the entire initiative process at risk in the state of Nebraska.

Putting the initiative process at risk in the state also creates an issue for the country. Because not every state includes an initiative process for its citizens, it should be protected in the states that do.

In the states that do allow the initiative process, there is an understanding. People have the right to decide what is important to them. Because of this understanding, people should have the right to bring up important issues. These issues, in theory, then make it onto the ballot.

When the initiative process is threatened, this understanding is threatened. Clearly, this Supreme Court decision affects more than just medical marijuana.

Moving Forward

Powerful officials and the state cannot be allowed to make these decisions for voters in their states. The entire reason that the initiative process exists is for the voters to have the deciding power. Decisions like this strip the voters of that deciding power, and cannot continue. Therefore, there must be a level of accountability to avoid abuse of power.

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