Medical marijuana petition drive makes urgent pitch for donors, volunteers

By: - March 24, 2022 10:42 am

A view of medical marijuana products at Vireo Health’s medical marijuana cultivation facility from 2016 in Johnstown, New York. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

An initiative petition drive seeking to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska has issued an urgent plea for donations and volunteers after reportedly losing a major contributor.

In an email to supporters on Wednesday, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana said that due to “personal and tragic circumstances,” a “committed donor” is no longer able to fund its petition drive this year.

The email called on supporters to “show our grit” by volunteering to pass petitions, or helping raise $500,000 to finance paid petition circulators by May 1.

State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, a leader of the petition drive, said Thursday that Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is confident additional funds can be raised “to fill the gap.”

Terminal illness

“Our campaign has an incredible amount of grassroots support,” Morfeld said. “We have hundreds of well-organized volunteers who are out gathering signatures, and more supporters sign up to help every day.”

He and Crista Eggers, the campaign coordinator, both declined to name the major funder who can’t support the cause. But Eggers said the donor in question had a terminal illness in the family, and had a partner die in a plane crash.

Morfeld called it “possible, but very difficult” to qualify an initiative for the ballot without using paid circulators, but “if any campaign can do it solely with a grassroots signature drive, it’s ours.” 

The development is a major setback for an effort that collected more than 122,000 signatures two years ago to qualify for the ballot, but was kicked off by the Nebraska Supreme Court. The court ruled that the initiative’s language violated the state’s “single-subject” rule, which requires a ballot issue to contain no more than one subject. 

Ricketts opposed

The petition drive faces major pushback from Gov. Pete Ricketts, who maintains that legalizing medical marijuana is the first step toward legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Ricketts appeared in a commercial financed by a group opposing the effort, SAM Nebraska, which is an affiliate of a national group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

While Ricketts maintains that cannabis has no medicinal value, dozens of Nebraskans have testified at the Capitol about its benefits in treating chronic pain and seizure disorders.

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, in its email, said it has collected about 15,000 signatures so far in its attempt to qualify for the 2022 general election ballot.

Eggers said the campaign needs to collect more than 87,000 valid signatures for its two petitions. They are due July 7.

The email said that this is “another all-hands-on-deck moment,” like in 2020, when the campaign pushed through the pandemic to qualify for the ballot.

The major funders that emerged in 2020 to finance the petition drive were: Mai Oil, Dallas, Texas, $335,500; Kingfish Investments; Abell, Md., $262,000; Harper Enterprises, Omaha, $89,000; and Sozo Companies of Warren, Mich., $50,000.

As of February, 37 states, four territories and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of  medical cannabis products, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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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.