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Group to seek legalization of recreational marijuana in Nebraska
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Group to seek legalization of recreational marijuana in Nebraska

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LINCOLN — A group that unsuccessfully tried to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot now says it’s going to seek a vote on legalizing recreational marijuana as well.

Officials with Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana said Sunday the group will be introducing ballot language in January for “full adult use” of marijuana, including medical and recreational use.

State Sens. Anna Wishart and Adam Morfeld, both of Lincoln, said they made the decision based on the passage of a ballot measure in South Dakota that allows both medical and recreational marijuana, as well as Friday’s vote to advance a legalization measure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“People in rural, conservative areas are open-minded about not only medical marijuana but recreational use,” Morfeld said.

The senator said that while collecting signatures for the medical marijuana initiative, he was asked frequently why voters shouldn’t be allowed to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana as well.

Wishart said it just makes “common sense” to seek legalization of recreational use since two bordering states, Colorado and South Dakota, now have done that. Nebraskans, she said, could face a felony if they purchased a marijuana derivative in those states and were caught with it in Nebraska due to the state’s “outdated” laws.

She added that revenue raised from marijuana sales could be used for many purposes, including funding better mental health services and reducing property taxes.

But Gov. Pete Ricketts, when asked about the new effort on Monday, pushed back, saying that marijuana today is much more powerful and much more dangerous than the weed that was around in the 1960s and ’70s.

So why was it passed in South Dakota? Ricketts said that was because of “misinformation” that “somehow, (marijuana) is benign.” He added that for-profit companies are behind the push to authorize legal use of marijuana for medicine and recreation.

Sens. Wishart and Morfeld were co-chairs of a recent effort to let Nebraskans vote in November on whether to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. But the initiative, despite getting more than enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot, was disqualified by the Nebraska Supreme Court, which ruled that the matter contained more than one subject.

Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson and former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne were among state leaders who vehemently opposed the medical marijuana proposal, warning that it was the first step toward legalizing it for recreational use.

In November, South Dakota voters approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, joining 14 other states. The South Dakota measure is the subject of a legal challenge.

The Nebraska medical marijuana group filed new petition language in September for an initiative to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. Morfeld said that a second petition, allowing recreational marijuana, would be filed in January.

The soonest Nebraskans could vote on the issues, assuming that enough signatures of registered voters are collected and expected legal challenges are overcome, would be in 2022.Photos: Our best staff images from December 2020

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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