Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana hoped to raise $1 million to fund a signature-gathering effort aimed at putting a pair of initiatives before voters this November.
But a pair of tragedies — a major donor to the campaign died in a plane crash earlier this year while another was diagnosed with a terminal illness — has left the initiative with roughly $30,000 cash.
With two months left to collect roughly 87,000 signatures, Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, who co-chairs Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, said the campaign is forging ahead as a grassroots effort.
“This campaign is going to have to come across the finish line in a very nontraditional way,” Wishart said. “No campaign has ever done it before, but if there’s any that can do it, it will definitely be this signature drive.”
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Instead of hiring professional signature-gatherers to canvass neighborhoods and attend high-traffic events, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana plans to put petitions at 100 locations across the state, including tanning salons, law offices and other local businesses.
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Those who care about putting the issue before voters will have to seek out the petitions, Wishart said, which puts the onus on Nebraskans, particularly as the campaign attempts to collect the names of 5% of registered voters in 38 counties.
“If every single person who cares about this issue participates, we will get across the finish line successfully,” she said.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana will host an online news conference Friday afternoon to detail its plan and direct volunteers and voters to its website (nebraskamarijuana.org) for more information about how it plans to proceed.
The switch from a fully funded campaign to a grassroots effort marks the latest twist in the attempt to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in the Cornhusker State.
In 2020, powered by about $2.5 million in donations, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana gathered some 196,000 signatures in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, easily exceeding the number needed.
According to Wishart, roughly 100,000 of the signatures collected were gathered in one month, even as the shutdowns due to COVID were still in effect.
“The last time we did this, we didn’t have the College World Series, we didn’t have active farmers markets, we didn’t have Snoop Dogg concerts,” Wishart said. “People were not gathering and were not allowed to gather in certain circumstances.”
Still, even though the effort surpassed the number of signatures needed by more than 100,000, the Nebraska Supreme Court blocked the initiative from appearing on the ballot on a 5-2 vote, finding it violated the state’s single-subject rule for petition drives.
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Wishart, along with Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, filed a pair of petitions last summer in order to address concerns raised by the Supreme Court.
The first petition would require state lawmakers to enact new laws protecting doctors who recommend medical cannabis to their patients, and for patients who possess or use cannabis.
The second petition would require the Legislature to enact statutes protecting private entities that produce and supply medical cannabis.
To date, Wishart said, both petitions have been signed by roughly 25,000 people. Both will need more than 62,000 people to sign over the next two months to meet the requirements set forth in state statute.
“It’s absolutely enough time for the remaining amount of people we need to go to a store and sign this petition,” she said.
Crista Eggers, the statewide campaign coordinator whose 7-year-old son, Colton, has drug-resistant epilepsy, said while having the funding in place would have made the campaign’s push to the finish easier and less stressful, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is better organized in 2022.
“We have more people on the ground and I do believe we have more momentum and support,” Eggers said.
There has been some opposition, notably from Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has appeared in advertisements sponsored by Smart Approaches to Marijuana urging Nebraskans to not sign onto the petitions.
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Eggers said recent polling has shown 80% of Nebraska voters support legalizing medical cannabis, which she says shows the importance of finishing the campaign.
“I have to believe that we have a chance to get this done, and it is really going to lay with the voters of the state,” she added. “We don’t have time to go to them; they are going to have to come to us.”
Wishart said the prospect of families like Eggers leaving the state to seek medical cannabis treatments elsewhere, or others being forced to split up, kept Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana moving forward.
The last few days have been filled with “intense and tough conversations” about how to proceed, she added, but ultimately, the decision was an easy one.
“There is no giving up when that’s the reality you’re facing,” she said. “It’s just not an option.”
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