Two gateways have opened to legalization of medical marijuana in Nebraska, taking different paths that could culminate in a vote of the Legislature or a vote of the people.
The petition drive, sponsored by Nebraskans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, Sens. Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld, would amend the Nebraska Constitution to give people the right to use, possess and produce cannabis and its products for serious medical conditions as recommended by a doctor or nurse practitioner.
The legislative bill (LB110), introduced by Wishart, would provide the framework of regulations to access cannabis for medical purposes. Wishart has met with a number of professional groups of doctors, pharmacists, business advocates, law enforcement, and gun owners to discuss concerns and privacy protections and to address them.
She is drafting an amendment to the bill for the Judiciary Committee to consider, she said.
"The bill that we are putting before the Judiciary Committee, I think, is one of the best public health models in the country when it comes to medical cannabis," Wishart said.
On the petition side, proponents are beginning to gather volunteers and collect some signatures; the first name was signed on a petition form March 22 in Omaha.
"We're doing this really meticulously," Wishart said. "It's important that we do it right, that the volunteers are trained correctly on all the rules around signature collection."
A couple of days ago, the petition committee sent an email blast and collected 70 volunteers in one day, she said. A man in Norfolk collected 200 signatures over a weekend. The campaign is gearing to collect more than 150,000 signatures, which is more than needed to get the issue on the 2020 ballot.
"We have a really long runway to do this," she said. "They'll be due the beginning of July next year."
She said she feels confident it will get on the ballot, she said, more than anything based on the reception she gets on this issue, no matter where she goes or who she talks to.
The campaign will have paid petition circulators at some point, but they will be supplemented largely with volunteers. And that will help with the cost, she said.
Signing events will take place in Lincoln on Sunday and April 14 at Meadowlark Coffee and Espresso. And there will be opportunities throughout the state, at county fairs, for example, and scheduled events.
Opponents, such as Gov. Pete Ricketts, former Gov. Kay Orr, Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent John Bolduc and others, have said the drug is dangerous, not approved by the federal government for medical use outside limited research and prescribed application, and a significant public safety concern.
But Wishart said people who have worked on the issue for many years — families with children who have seizure disorders, veterans who have permanent injuries and disabilities, people with chronic pain, diseases and conditions — finally feel a sense of hope that there's going to be resolution.
"There is a feeling that this is really going to happen, that this is real," she said.