Advocates might push for recreational cannabis after medical marijuana drive fails

Petition drive backers point to lack of paid circulators as a reason

By: - August 22, 2022 11:29 am
medical marijuana

Crista Eggers, left, the campaign coordinator for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, accepts more petitions from a volunteer, Samantha Chavez of Omaha, last month as the deadline loomed to submit petitiions. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

This report was updated at 5:30 p.m. Monday,

LINCOLN — The next petition drive to legalize medical marijuana may include permitting recreational use, an official with Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana said Monday.

Crista Eggers, who coordinated the medical marijuana initiative that fell short Monday of qualifying for the November ballot, said there definitely will be discussions about seeking legalization of both medical and recreational cannabis.

While medical marijuana has always been her group’s focus, adding recreational marijuana for adult use would attract bigger donations, which are needed to succeed in getting a medical marijuana issue on the ballot, she said.

The lack of funds to hire paid, professional petition circulators was blamed, in part, for the failure of this year’s petition drive by Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana.

“There is nothing off the table about how we get this done,” said Eggers, whose son suffers from up to 100 epileptic seizures a day. “I’m a parent, and I will do whatever it takes, and go to the ends of the Earth, to help my child.”

She said she’s willing to endure the criticism of anti-marijuana groups, who have claimed that the push for medical marijuana is a forerunner for seeking all-out legalization.

Trying to find the words

On Monday, one of those groups, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, pointed out that a new National Institutes of Health report concluded marijuana use had reached the highest levels ever, with daily use by young adults doubling in the past decade.

This was the second time in two years that an initiative to legalize medical marijuana has failed to qualify for Nebraska’s general election ballot.

Medical marijuana
Parents of these childen, who suffer from epileptic seizures, pleaded Wednesday for Nebraskans to seek out and sign petitions legalizing medical marijuana. Pictured are, from left, Colton Eggers, Jayen Hochstein and Will Gillen. (Courtesy of Crista Eggers)

The Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office said Monday that two petitions submitted by Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana failed to collect the necessary, valid signatures of 86,776 voters and fell short of another requirement — gathering at least 5% of registered voters in 38 of the state’s 93 counties for its two petitions.

Eggers said she was trying to find the words to inform her 7-year-old son, Colton, who suffers from multiple seizures, that the initiative had failed again.

“He asks me every single night, ‘Did we get enough signatures so I can get the medicine I need?’ ” Eggers said.

She said the pro-medical marijuana forces will launch a new petition drive as soon as possible.

“We’re going to regroup, we’re going to hurt and we’re going to cry and we’re going to be angry, but then we’re going to take the anger we feel today and turn it into action,” Eggers said.

“There’s no giving up,” she added

Both petitions fell  short

The Secretary of State’s Office said both petitions submitted fell short. A petition to legalize marijuana collected 77,843 signatures and qualified in 26 counties. A companion petition to set up regulation of medical marijuana turned in 77,119 valid signatures and qualified in 27 counties.

Unlike two other initiative petition drives this year, which turned in more than 160,000 signatures each and used paid, professional petition circulators, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana utilized primarily volunteers.

The marijuana group’s last campaign spending report listed about $146,000 in expenditures, compared with spending of $1.77 million by Citizens for Voter ID and $1.49 million for Raise the Wage Nebraska.

A leading anti-marijuana group said Nebraskans “were not duped by the marijuana industry’s trojan horse attempt to commercialize drug use under the guise of ‘medicine,’ ” said a statement from Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“Today’s high potency, bioengineered marijuana and THC products such as edibles, vapes, and concentrates serve one purpose: to hook a generation of addicts to a commercialized drug for profit,” the statement added.

As of February, 37 states, three territories and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of cannabis as medicine, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That includes the neighboring states of Colorado, South Dakota and Missouri. Iowa and Wyoming have legalized low-dose cannabis and CBD medical products.

Marijuana for recreational use is allowed in 19 states, two territories and the District of Columbia.

Plenty of signatures in 2020

The petition drive failure was a bitter defeat for the medical marijuana group, which had gathered more than enough signatures two years ago to qualify a single initiative for voters. But it was knocked off the ballot by the Nebraska Supreme Court, which ruled that the ballot language violated the state’s “single subject” rule.

Eggers said that now about a half million Nebraskans have signed petitions to allow a vote on medical marijuana.

“I hope the elected officials are paying attention,” she said. “They have the power to do something.”

Eggers said she hopes that the Legislature will hold a special session this fall to pass a medical marijuana law.

That would seem to be a long shot. State lawmakers have failed to advance any proposals to legalize medical cannabis, and Gov. Pete Ricketts — who leaves office in January due to term limits — is a staunch opponent of legalization.

Eggers said that despite falling short in 2022, she was very proud of the effort, which resulted in more than 90,000 signatures collected.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.