OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska voters will get the chance to decide whether to legalize medical marijuana in November, the state’s top election official announced Thursday, although his decision is certain to face an immediate court challenge.
Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen confirmed that activists have collected enough valid petition signatures to qualify the measure for the general-election ballot. Evnen, a Republican, rejected a request by marijuana opponents to block the measure, as he did this week with a proposal to allow casino gambling.
Evnen said opponents raised several valid points about problems with the ballot measure’s language, but he ultimately concluded that it met all the legal requirements necessary to go before voters.
“It was a close case,” he said in an interview.
Evnen said he’s certain that marijuana opponents will challenge his decision before the Nebraska Supreme Court. The court will likely agree to hear the case quickly, because state law requires Evnen to finalize the ballot by Sept. 11.
Organizers of the ballot measure have said they’re highly confident that the measure will survive a legal challenge and argue that medical marijuana has strong support in Nebraska.
Mark Fahleson, a Lincoln attorney and former Nebraska Republican Party chairman, argued in a Wednesday letter to Evnen that the measure violates the state constitution.
Fahleson said in the letter that the ballot measure fails to follow Nebraska’s single-subject rule, which bars petition sponsors from bunching multiple issues into one yes-or-no question for voters to decide.
He argued that the ballot measure poses two separate questions: whether residents should have the right to use marijuana for medical purposes, and whether private companies should be allowed to grow and sell it.
Gambling opponents made similar arguments about the language of the casino ballot measure in a letter from their attorneys, some of whom also have close ties to the state GOP.
Supporters of the citizen petition drive announced last month that they had gathered more than enough signatures to submit the issue to voters. They launched the campaign after Nebraska lawmakers repeatedly rejected measures to medical marijuana.
The Nebraska ballot measure would guarantee a constitutional right to use and grow marijuana if a doctor recommends it with no restrictions on what diseases qualify. It would only ban smoking the drug in public places. If voters approve it in the 2020 general election, patients would be free to grow an “adequate” supply.
Both the marijuana and gambling measures are viewed as widely popular with Nebraska voters, but they face strong opposition from well-connected Republican leaders, including Gov. Pete Ricketts.
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