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Medical marijuana initiative official voices ‘disgust’ at late review of its signatures

By: - September 19, 2022 4:19 pm
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 — The leader of an initiative to allow Nebraskans to vote on whether to legalize medical marijuana is expressing her “absolute disgust” that state officials haven’t yet completed a final review of the petition signatures.

Crista Eggers, in a letter to Secretary of State Bob Evnen, said Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has yet to receive a final determination of whether it came close to submitting the required number of signatures and, because of that, has now lost the ability to legally challenge the count.

10 days to file protests

State law requires that groups file contests to a count within 10 days of submitting their signatures, a time period that has now expired.

The medical marijuana group was informed Aug. 22 that it had failed to turn in sufficient signatures to qualify for the November ballot. It 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.

After proponents raised some concerns that some signatures had not been counted, the Secretary of State’s Office agreed Aug. 24 to conduct an additional review. However, at that time, state officials insisted that the review wouldn’t make a difference in their determination that the petition drive fell short.

Officials with Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, meanwhile, have said they weren’t quite sure about that. They maintain that the additional review of signatures might have pushed their court close enough to the number required to lead to a legal challenge.

Ran out the clock

“Our campaign should have been shown the decency to complete this process without your own assumptions,” Eggers wrote. “Our right to explore possible challenges was taken from us, as you have now run out the clock on us.”

“It’s hard to think this isn’t a calculated deal,” she added.

The ballot for the November election was finalized Friday, meaning it’s too late to add items such as the medical marijuana question.

Cindi Allen, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the medical marijuana group had 10 days to contest the decision and didn’t.

The counting of the additional signatures has not yet been completed, but officials said it would be completed soon.

During the same time frame, the office had two other initiative petition drives to count — on Voter ID and raising the minimum wage — as well as counting signatures to petition onto the ballot from two legislative candidates and a gubernatorial hopeful.

Tortured history

While polling shows that Nebraskans solidly support legalizing marijuana for medical use, the issue has had a tortured history in getting before voters.

Two years ago, the effort had more than enough signatures, but it was derailed by a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that the wording of the initiative violated the constitutional requirement that such changes contain only one subject.

This year, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana lost a prime financial supporter, which meant it had to rely mostly on volunteers to circulate petitions, a huge barrier to overcome. Backers turned in petitions in early July but didn’t voice optimism about qualifying for the ballot.

Eggers, whose son suffers from frequent seizures and wants medical marijuana treatments, said that despite the failure, the effort to legalize cannabis for medicine will continue.

“The talks are happening right now about refiling language and moving forward,” she said.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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