Senator pledges to seek special session, introduce bill to legalize medical marijuana

Advocates meet with Secretary of State’s Office to double-check numbers

By: - August 23, 2022 10:11 am
Medical marijuana

Parents of these children, who suffer from epileptic seizures, have been among those pleading for Nebraska to legalize medical marijuana. Pictured are, from left, Colton Eggers, Jayen Hochstein and Will Gillen. (Courtesy of Crista Eggers)

LINCOLN — Advocates for legalization of medical marijuana were pursuing a trio of options Tuesday after their attempt at qualifying the issue for the November ballot fell short.

State Sen. Adam Morfeld
State Sen Adam Morfeld of Lincoln (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office

Representatives of Nebraska for Medical Marijuana met Tuesday with officials with the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office to try to discern how the petition drive fell short and whether any signatures were wrongly disqualified.

“We are doing our due diligence and going through and analyzing the numbers carefully,” said State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, one of the leaders in the push for medical marijuana.

Effort said to fall short

Also on Tuesday, Gretna Sen. Jen Day pledged to introduce a bill in the 2023 legislative session to legalize medical marijuana. She said she was also exploring the possibility of calling a special session this fall to address the issue.

“We will exhaust every measure possible to get Nebraskans the medical freedom they deserve and want,” Day said. “We know that Nebraskans strongly support this.”

The Secretary of State’s office announced Monday that the two petitions submitted by the medical marijuana group each fell about 9,000 valid signatures short of the requirement of 86,776 signatures from registered voters. Organizers also failed to collect signatures of at least 5% of registered voters in 38 of the state’s 93 counties, another requirement.

Signatures can be invalidated for several reasons, including the signer not being a registered voter, a person signing a petition for the wrong county and petitions failing to be notarized.

Day said she has begun calling her legislative colleagues to gauge support for a special session.

Two-thirds of the 49-member Legislature, or 33 senators, would have to concur to call a special session — a level of support that hasn’t been reached in recent regular sessions of the Legislature for legislation legalizing medical marijuana.

Some senators reluctant to return

Jen Day. District 49. Nebraska Legislature. November 9, 2020. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communication

Day said some term-limited senators have already “kind of moved on” after completing their final regular session in April and are reluctant to return to Lincoln with the 2023 session beginning in January.

“I think the support (for a special session) is good. I don’t know how senators are going to feel about it being so close to the next session,” the senator said.

Day said that she will introduce a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the 2023 session if she can’t find sufficient support for a special session this fall.

She said that Crista Eggers, one of the leaders in the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana and the mother of 7-year-old who suffers from dozens of seizures a day, is a constituent.

Families want treatments

Day said she has also met with other families who are seeking to use medical cannabis to treat chronic pain and epileptic seizures. She said she knows military veterans who also support legalization. Cannabis has been touted as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s inevitable and it’s coming,” Day said, noting that only a couple of states in the union haven’t either legalized medical marijuana or use of CBD oil.

Day added that it’s important legalization is “done the right way,” to ensure that the treatments get only to the people who need it.

Past efforts in the Nebraska Legislature to legalize medical marijuana have failed, which has convinced advocates to seek legalization through another route, via the initiative petition process.

New petition drive promised

Advocates have said they will launch another petition drive if this year’s effort is determined to have failed. They might consider adding legalization of recreational marijuana to the petition to draw more donations to the effort.

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.

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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.