Nebraska medical marijuana advocates confident third time is the charm

By: - September 13, 2023 11:15 pm

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana petition circulator Marcie Reed, at left, helps Rachel Morfeld-Ayalon sign the ballot measures on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Lincoln. Morfeld-Ayalon’s husband, former State Sen. Adam Morfeld, watches in the background. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Advocates for medical marijuana officially launched their campaign Wednesday to place the issue on the 2024 ballot, filled with confidence the third time will finally be the charm.

Crista Eggers, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana campaign manager. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Crista Eggers, campaign manager for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, has worked on the drive during each of its last two attempts to support her 9-year-old son, Colton, a third grader who has epilepsy and severe seizures. But she and other advocates are maintaining that after two failed drives, the day is coming soon when she’ll be able to tell her son, “We did it.”

“I do know that day will come when I get to tell him and that he will understand that by sharing something that’s very personal and very painful, he helped make a change. Someday there will be a parent that I get to talk to and they won’t have had to fight this battle,” Eggers said.

“It will be worth it for that one parent that does not face what so many of us face,” she said.

This year’s drive includes two separate measures — the Patient Protection Act and the Medical Cannabis Regulation Act. The first would protect patients and caregivers. The other would set the regulatory environment. The campaign anticipates it will need at least 87,000 verified voter signatures on each measure but is seeking many more as a buffer.

State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln addresses a group at Duffy’s Tavern on Wednesday, Sept. 13, in Lincoln. To her left is Crista Eggers and former State Sen. Adam Morfeld. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

If enough valid signatures are gathered by July 3, the measures would be placed before voters on Nov. 5, 2024.

County requirement is first priority

Last year, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, co-chaired by State Sen. Anna Wishart and former State Sen. Adam Morfeld, both of Lincoln, did not collect signatures from 5% of voters in at least 38 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. In 2020, a medical marijuana initiative qualified for the ballot, but the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled it violated the state’s “single subject” rule.

The campaign cited the death of a major donor last year as a reason it fell short of the county-level signatures. This time, the campaign is starting earlier than before and focusing on the 38-county requirement with hopes more time will aid the group regardless of funding.

Wishart said the campaign aims to meet the county requirement by year’s end. If not, she said, a “huge chunk” of counties will be secured.

Morfeld said the reason the efforts continue is because people are suffering.

“There are people that have loved ones that are still here and suffering today, and that’s why we get up and do this every single day,” Morfeld told the few dozen people gathered at Duffy’s Tavern in downtown Lincoln.

‘I don’t see any chance of the bill passing’

Wishart has tried various times to pass a medical marijuana bill in the Legislature, including a 2021 bill that fell two votes short of advancing to another debate round. This year, Wishart introduced Legislative Bill 588, the Medicinal Cannabis Act, but it did not advance from the Judiciary Committee.

State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln on Sept. 13. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Wishart told the Nebraska Examiner that she has a “ticking clock” this time around, and she knows she has “one more shot” as a state senator to get medical marijuana over the finish line. She will be term-limited next year.

She said the choice now is either a ballot initiative with much broader language, because it cannot set specific regulations due to the single subject requirement, or a legislative bill that goes into much more detail, she added.

“I don’t see any chance of the bill passing, so we’re going to go with the ballot drive,” Wishart said. 

Organizer expects statewide support

Gov. Jim Pillen said in a statement that he believes in protecting Nebraska children and that legalizing marijuana “poses demonstrated harms to our children.” 

“Access to medical marijuana should only happen if it has undergone the FDA-approved process,” Pillen said, referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Wishart said she has talked with Pillen about this issue but said the system at the FDA level is broken. For example, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, the highest classification possible. 

She said a majority of states have legalized cannabis without interference from the federal branch and anticipates the initiative will garner statewide support.

“I’m not a betting person,” Wishart told the Examiner. “But if I was, I would wager if it was exclusively the 3rd District that got to vote, it would still pass.” 

‘I know what is killing my kid’

Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb., opposed the medical marijuana group’s past efforts during his time as governor. He gained national attention in 2021 when he said, “If you legalize marijuana, you’re going to kill your kids.”

Eggers said she “just can’t get behind that” because she knows what is harming her son, who she described as a “typical kid” who loves flag football and Legos.

“I know what is killing my child, and that is having horrific seizures daily for the last five, six years,” Eggers said.

‘There will be a party’

Lisa Post, at left, holds a Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana T-shirt with best friend Trisha Petersen on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Lincoln. The two met during the campaign. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Lia Post of Springfield attended the launch party Wednesday and said she got involved with the legalization efforts after she became disabled eight years ago with a rare illness called complex regional pain syndrome. She went from working full time as a senior executive assistant to the chief financial officer for a major company to not being able to take a shower and being barely able to get out of bed.

“Basically my illness just stopped me in my tracks,” Post said. 

It hasn’t been an easy journey, she added, but she is very hopeful the campaign will be successful and she’ll be seen, simply, as a patient.

“For me, just getting my diagnosis was huge,” Post said. “But the day that I get to use cannabis for it legally there will be a party.”

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach rejoins the Nebraska Examiner after studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, following a yearlong Examiner internship. His coverage focus areas have included politics and government, health and well-being and higher education.

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