The Nebraska Supreme Court has reversed the opinion of Secretary of State Bob Evnen to put medical marijuana legalization to a vote of the people in November.
With dissenting opinions from two justices, the court issued an order for Evnen to withhold the initiative from the ballot. Evnen said he will comply with that.
In July, supporters turned in more than 182,000 signatures to get the issue on the Nov. 3 ballot. The number needed was about 122,000 signatures, more than 10% of the voters in the state.
After Evnen certified the signatures, Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner challenged his decision to put it on the ballot, arguing the question was confusing and created voter doubt, and that it violated the single subject requirement of a constitutional question.
Lincoln Sens. Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld, who sponsored both the petition initiative and a legislative bill to legalize medical cannabis, said in a news release they were "deeply disappointed" by the ruling. It is legally sufficient and should be on the ballot in November, they said.
"We want to thank all of our dedicated volunteers and supporters," they said. "Do not despair — we are going back to the ballot and to the Legislature."
The court agreed the ballot issue violated the single subject rule because its general subject and various other provisions lacked natural and necessary connection with each other. It determined, in fact, the act has eight subjects.
The initiative would grant rights to use, possess, access, purchase and safely produce an adequate supply of cannabis and its products to alleviate serious medical conditions.
The court found the general purpose of the initiative was to create a constitutional right for people with serious medical conditions to produce and medicinally use cannabis, subject to a recommendation by a licensed physician or nurse practitioner.
But subsections of the act would allow private entities in Nebraska a constitutional property right to legally grow and sell the substance to those who qualify to use it and would civilly and criminally immunize those entities to do so.
Evnen found the secondary purpose connected and sufficiently supported the general subject, but the court disagreed.
The justices, instead, agreed with Wagner that clauses in subsections of the act, such as disallowing the smoking of cannabis in public or the operation of a motor vehicle while impaired by cannabis, represented distinct constitutional rights and policies not naturally connected to the general subject of the act.
Justice Jonathan Papik wrote a dissenting opinion, and Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman joined the dissent, saying they disagreed the act violated the single subject rule.
Everyone involved in this case — the initiative’s sponsors, Wagner, the secretary of state, and the majority of the court — more or less agreed as to the act's primary purpose, Papik said.
That purpose is “to create a constitutional right for persons with serious medical conditions to produce and medicinally use cannabis, subject to a recommendation by a licensed physician or nurse practitioner.”
And all the details of the act, Papik said, relate to the same general subject.
In a separate decisions by the court, all three gambling initiatives will be placed on the November general election ballot, as will the payday lending initiative.