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Monday, February 6, 2023

Court ruling on polling procedures simplifies cannabis legalization in Nebraska

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A federal judge has struck down provisions of the Nebraska Voter Initiative process in a ruling that would simplify efforts to put a medical cannabis legalization procedure on the ballot in the November election. In his ruling, Federal District Court Judge John M. Gerrard wrote that requiring campaigns for ballot initiatives to collect signatures from 5% of voters in 38 counties violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. Gerrard issued an order Monday preventing Nebraska from enforcing the law as activists work to gather signatures for two complementary initiatives to legalize medicinal cannabis for the 2022 general election.

Under Nebraska law, citizens wishing to place an action on the ballot must collect signatures from at least 7% of registered voters, including at least 5% of voters in at least 38 of the state’s 93 counties. In a lawsuit, activists from the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) group and the ACLU claimed that the 38 district rule is unconstitutional because it violates the rights to free speech and equal protection guaranteed under the US Constitution.

Nebraska The initiative process violates the “one man, one vote” principle.

The plaintiffs argued that the rule violated the “one man, one vote” principle by making voter signatures in sparsely populated rural counties more valuable than signatures of voters in Nebraska cities. Under that rule, prosecutors said one voter in rural Arthur County equals 1,216 voters in Douglas County, which includes Omaha, the most populous city in Nebraska. NMM also stated that the requirement would violate First Amendment rights by dictating how the group should prioritize signature collection efforts.

“The county number or how likely we are to qualify has determined where I am sending my resources, sending volunteers, you know, autograph collectors,” Nebraskan to medical marijuana campaign manager Krista Eggers, the plaintiff named in the lawsuit, He told local media.

Gerrard agreed with the plaintiffs and issued an injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing a 38 county rule for polling measures, including those currently being traded by the NMM for two related medical cannabis legalization measures.

“Nebraska is free to demand that it demonstrate statewide support for the ballot initiative—but it may not do so based on substantially different populations, discriminating among voters,” the judge wrote in his ruling.

Gerrard also attacked the legal argument in support of the 38-county rule made by Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evenn and Attorney General Doug Peterson, who argued that if the requirement were overturned it would destroy the entire state’s initiative process.

In his 46-page opinion, Gerrard wrote, “The saying that a child should go with the bath water is surprising.”

Two medical cannabis proposals vie for voter support

Activists with NMM are currently distributing petitions for Two medical cannabis initiatives for the November poll. The first proposal “requires the legislature to enact new laws to protect physicians who prescribe and patients who possess or use medicinal cannabis from criminal punishment,” According to the report In the Lincoln Journal Star. Under the second initiative, lawmakers will be asked to “pass legislation creating a regulatory framework that protects private entities that produce and supply medical cannabis.”

The group has until July 7 to submit at least 87,000 signatures for both initiatives. To date, the group has collected a total of 80,000 signatures. Campaign leaders say Gerrard’s ruling will make the job easier because fulfilling the 38-county rule has been a challenge, especially since Raed’s death. The car donor died in March.

“That allows me to go and collect signatures from all Nebraskans,” Eggers said.

Nebraska Senator Anna Wishart, another campaign leader, said Monday’s ruling is a “big win” for residents who want to legalize the medical use of cannabis.

“Nebraskans across the state support this problem because they know a relative, friend, or neighbor who is sick and would benefit from getting medical cannabis,” Wishart said.

On Tuesday, a federal judge denied Evnen’s request to block the injunction. The attorney general’s office said Gerrard’s decision would be appealed, a move approved by the foreign minister.

“I agree with the decision to immediately appeal the district court’s order, which overturns a Nebraska constitutional provision on initiative petitions,” Evenn said Monday night.

The Nebraska Civil Liberties Union said it will continue to work to ensure that 38 counties are not reinstated.

“We just have to see what Secretary Evenn does,” said Daniel Gutman of the Nebraska Civil Liberties Union. “Obviously, we will be ready to respond.”

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