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Questions raised about Nebraska’s petition process

State senators introduce multiple medical marijuana bills
State senators introduce multiple medical marijuana bills(AP NEWS)
Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 5:18 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Some lawmakers have begun the process of fixing Nebraska’s petition process.

This goes back to last fall when two ballot measures received more than enough signatures to be put before Nebraska voters, but the Supreme Court stepped in. This confused many legal scholars.

Last year — for months — you didn’t have to look hard to see the petition drive. Signature collectors were all over the state: one trying to get medical marijuana on the ballot, another working to expand gambling.

But here’s where it got messy:

The Nebraska Secretary of State said the medical marijuana ballot followed the rules in the way it was written, but the gambling petition had not. A few weeks later, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled completely the opposite way.

“I’ve probably never been more devastated in my life. This was a lot of hard work by real people,” said State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, who still wears the scars of last fall when a last-minute decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court threw out 190,000 signatures.

The power of the people had been crushed and so had the spirit of so many of the volunteers who were moms and dads of children with epilepsy. They were fighting for the ability to legally give their loved one medical cannabis to relieve the seizures.

“Nothing that happened last fall, looks good,” said a law professor Anthony Shutz.

University of Nebraska Lincoln law professor Anthony Schutz says the supreme court got it wrong. This coming from a guy who has co-written books about the issue.

“The court is right because the court is last. And now we have a rule in play that is dangerous,” said Shutz.

He says when you talk about a ballot initiative needing to be a single subject, it’s about making sure you don’t pair gambling and marijuana in the same question for a vote because it forces people to vote for one if they don’t like the other.

Single-subject, in his view, means you can also have parts of the ballot talk about how to manage marijuana licenses and fund it -- that they are in the same category.

“When people go out and collect signatures, they should go out with an understanding that the language they’re asking people to sign is constitutionally correct. And right now, it’s so muddled in terms of our single-subject language that no one can have assurance that’s the case,” said Wishart.

UNL is having a symposium this fall with some of the brightest minds in the country when it comes to single-subject ballot questions.

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