The right of Nebraska citizens to add issues to the ballot by petition is one that is embedded in the constitution, with historical precedent of over 100 years. While this is a common right across the United States, Nebraska’s unicameral again makes us unique in this area. In effect, the petition process grants voters the role of the “second house” of the legislature. And though this line is cliche, we should appreciate the responsibility that accompanies this power. Being an informed signer (or non-signer) is of similar importance to being an informed voter.
In this election cycle, there are eight petitions registered with the Nebraska Secretary of State. They cover a variety of topics, including cannabis use, taxes, abortion, and workplace laws. In order to shine light on the different petitions, VIP will be dedicating the next few articles to discussions of each topic. If you want to learn about the initiative and referendum process, the Secretary of State has a great pamphlet on the subject.
One relevant point to cover before we begin is the required number of signatures for an initiative or referendum to make it onto the ballot. From the Secretary of State’s pamphlet:
“For an initiative to propose a law, signatures equaling 7% of the registered voters in the state are required. For a constitutional amendment, 10% of the registered voters must sign, and for a referendum, 5%. For a referendum that suspends a law from taking effect, 10% of the registered voters must sign the petition. In addition, signatures must be collected from 5% of the registered voters in 38 of the 93 Nebraska counties. This distribution requirement applies to both initiative and referendum efforts.”
According to Nebraska government statistics, the number of registered voters in the state is 1,228,246 persons. This means that 122,825 signatures are needed from 38 different counties for a constitutional amendment, and 85,977 signatures from the same number of counties for an initiative. Requiring signatures from a diversity of counties prevents the more densely populated cities (primarily Omaha and Lincoln) from exerting unreasonable influence over policy for the rest of the state.
For January, we look at the three initiatives that deal with the topic of cannabis use:
1. the Nebraska Cannabis Constitutional Amendment
2. the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Regulation Initiative
3. the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Initiative
These three initiatives represent two different approaches to the use of cannabis-related products. The first from the list above is sponsored by Bill Hawkins of The Nebraska Hemp Company. The other two initiatives are sponsored by a group of three people: Sen. Anna Wishart, representative from District 27; Crista Eggers of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana; and Adam Morfeld, former Nebraska state senator from District 46.
Nebraska Cannabis Constitutional Amendment
The initiative sponsored by Mr. Hawkins represents the position that all forms of cannabis use should be completely legal. The object statement is as follows: “The object of the Nebraska Cannabis Initiative Petition is to amend the Constitution of the State of Nebraska by adding a new Article XIX which states that all persons have the right to use all plants in the genus Cannabis.” That is, essentially, the entirety of the amendment initiative.
This proposed Article XIX does not include any additional laws or restrictions on cannabis use. If this amendment is put into law, there would no longer be penalties for any form of cannabis-related product use. A signature on this petition is support for all cannabis products being legal for use by “all persons”.
Initiatives 2 and 3 from the list above are intended to go hand-in-hand in order to establish both the right for businesses to manufacture and dispense, as well as individuals to possess cannabis products for medicinal use. If one were passed without the other, very little would be accomplished. Both proposed acts need to be passed in order for individuals to legally obtain and use cannabis products.
Nebraska Medical Cannabis Regulation Initiative
The Nebraska Medical Cannabis Regulation Initiative begins by establishing numerous terms such as, what kinds of products are referred to by the word “cannabis" (Sec. 2. (1) & Sec. 2. (4)), the definition of cannabis “accessories” (Sec. 2 (2)), and what cannabis use for “medical purposes” includes (Sec. 2 (3)). Section 3 of the proposed act contains the language that would remove all penalties for “registered” cannabis establishments who engage in the processing
(possession, manufacturing, distributing, delivering, and dispensing) of cannabis products for medical use. If this initiative is passed into law, these actions would no longer be prohibited by Nebraska state law. The remainder of the initiative is devoted to proposing a new commission, called the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Commission, and establishing the responsibilities/authority of the commission. This commision would be made up of at least the three members of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, with two more positions available for the Governor to appoint if he wishes (subject to approval by a state legislature majority). Members of this new commission would serve 6-year terms.
The commission would have authority over regulations regarding the possession,
manufacturing, etc. of cannabis products (Sec. 5). Some of the primary duties of the commission are as follows:
● Create criteria for applicants’ eligibility to become a registered cannabis establishment (Sec. 6. (1))
● Manage (“grant, deny, revoke”) registrations according to the established criteria (Sec. 6.(3))
● Adopt and enforce regulations for cannabis establishments (Sec. 6. (4))
● Perform inspections on registered cannabis establishments to verify that regulations are being followed (Sec. 6. (7))
● Have the authority to impose fines on cannabis establishments in violation of adopted regulations (Sec. 6. (8))
A signature on this petition is support of removing penalties for “cannabis establishments” who are registered with the state, as well as support for creating the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Commission, and vesting in it the authorities outlined above.
Nebraska Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Initiative
If passed into law, the proposed Nebraska Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Act would remove all penalties under state law for the purchase and possession of an “allowable amount” of cannabis for medical purposes. Just like the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Regulation Initiative, this initiative begins with definitions. Sec. 2 lays out the same definitions for cannabis and cannabis products as this group’s other initiative, and adds clarity for what an “allowable
amount” of cannabis is (five ounces). Also in Sec. 2 are definitions for the terms “caregiver”, “qualified patient”, and “healthcare practitioner” in relation to this proposed act.
Sec. 3 removes all penalties for “A qualified patient to use, possess, and acquire an allowable amount of cannabis and cannabis accessories for the alleviation of a medical condition…” (Sec.1 (a)), as well as allow a caregiver (as defined in Sec. 1 of the initiative) “to assist a qualified patient with the activities set forth [in Sec. 1 (a)]”. A qualified patient (as defined by this initiative)
means someone with “written recommendation” from a healthcare practitioner. Patients younger than eighteen would also be required to produce written permission from a parent/legal guardian to legally obtain cannabis products.
A signature on this petition is support for “qualified patients” obtaining (without penalty) cannabis products for the purpose of treating a medical condition, as well as the ability for “caregivers” to assist in this endeavor.
In essence, if these two proposed acts were passed into law, they would together make the following changes:
1. Businesses could become legally registered to process and sell cannabis products.
2. Individuals with approval from a healthcare professional could legally obtain and use cannabis products for medical purposes.
3. Create a new commission that would have authority over the registration and regulation of cannabis establishments.
Where do you stand?
Whatever your position on the topic, we encourage you to dig deeper into issues like this, and make the best, most informed decision possible. Just like voting, signing (or not signing) a petition should be taken seriously. Just as we want leaders to make decisions with our best interest in mind, we need to be calculated when we get the privilege of input on our state policy.
If you would like to research the issue further, please see the links below.
Pros and cons of medical marijuana:
Study on effects of cannabis on the brain:
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana Petitions page: