Nebraskan medical marijuana advocates plan to relaunch their signature drive to put a medical cannabis question on the 2020 ballot having suspended operations last month in response to coronavirus social distancing guidelines.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana said that once certain public health measures are eased they will pursue a modified petitioning process which will not include digital signatures as this approach could make volunteers liable for criminal sanctions.
“The state can impose serious criminal penalties on petition collectors for violations, and we’re just simply not going to ask anyone—especially volunteers—to take on those risks,” said campaign coordinator Mark Jensen in an interview with KFMT radio. “We’ve got volunteers who’d be more than happy to run into that fire, but we just can’t let them do that.”
Instead, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is “preparing masks, tables, disposable pens, hand sanitizer to be able to get back out and collect safely in a socially distant way once these direct health measures expire.”
The group aims to raise additional funds to hire paid canvassers, recruit more volunteers, and cover the costs of the necessary equipment to comply with social distancing measures.
“As we get further into this, now there is some funding so there will be more paid canvassers out, not just the ones of us who’ve been doing volunteering,” said Jensen, who also serves in Fremont City council.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana posted to its Facebook followers that “as soon as it is safe to do so, we are ready to relaunch our signature-gathering campaign—with those in the field taking safety precautions to uphold social distancing measures and public health.”
“We remain confident that, working together, we will be successful in qualifying the medical marijuana initiative for the ballot if a modified form of traditional signature gathering can safely resume within the next two to three weeks,” the post reads. “For many patients and families, uncertainty about the status of our medical marijuana initiative creates additional anxiety in an already-stressful time. We know what is at stake and remain 100% committed to making this effort successful.”
The initiative proposed by Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana would legalize cannabis for patients with debilitating medical conditions, subject to a doctor’s recommendation. Qualifying patient would be permitted to possess, purchase and grow limited quantities of cannabis for personal consumption.
To qualify for the November ballot, the group must collect around 130,000 verified signatures from registered voters in Nebraska before July 8. They had only just started canvassing in early March when the coronavirus outbreak started to spread rapidly, prompting lockdown measures which made signature-gathering impossible.
“[We] had already started hiring canvassers when this whole coronavirus thing happened,” said Tommy Garrett, a former Republican state senator in Nebraska who now serves as chairman of ADOPT, a statewide coalition to legalize medical marijuana.
If they can kickstart the campaign in May, “we’ll have 60 days to get this done,” Garrett said. “It’s not an impossibility.”
Nebraska is one of many states whose marijuana reform efforts have been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but one of the few still aiming to put a marijuana legalization question to voters this November.
Marijuana reform activists in Missouri canceled their 2020 cannabis legalization campaign and are instead refocusing their efforts on the 2022 ballot.
Gov. Chris Cuomo of New York, the worst hit state in the US, put marijuana legalization on hold for this year, saying the 2020 legislative session is “effectively over.”
Other states with pending marijuana reform bills, such as New Hampshire, Kentucky, Vermont and Connecticut have also put the issue on hold as coronavirus measures continue to dominate state officials’ concerns.