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Nebraska voters would decide whether to legalize marijuana under proposed constitutional amendment
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Nebraska voters would decide whether to legalize marijuana under proposed constitutional amendment

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LINCOLN — Nebraska voters would be asked to legalize marijuana for all Nebraskans 21 and older under a proposed constitutional amendment introduced Thursday in the State Legislature.

If state lawmakers advanced the proposal — which seems unlikely — the issue would appear on the ballot in 2022.

The legislative proposal, from State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, comes as an advocacy group seeking legalization plans to collect signatures that, if enough were collected, would also allow voters to decide whether to legalize cannabis for both medical and recreational use.

The group, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, had collected enough signatures to put medical marijuana on the ballot in November. But two months before that, the State Supreme Court tossed the issue off the ballot, ruling that it violated the Nebraska Constitution’s requirement that ballot initiatives stick to a single subject.

The disqualification prompted the group to try again, but this time to seek voter approval of both medical and recreational marijuana. In November, neighboring South Dakota became the first state in the nation in which voters approved both uses of marijuana at the same time.

Wayne said that he expected that Nebraska voters will approve a marijuana legalization ballot measure, and there was no reason to wait for a petition drive to put the issue to them.

The longer the state waits, the senator said, the less opportunity for Nebraska businesses to grab part of the market for growing and selling cannabis.

Fifteen states, plus the District of Columbia, have now made it legal to buy and consume recreational marijuana; medical marijuana is legal in 35 states plus D.C.

Past attempts in the Nebraska Legislature to legalize medical marijuana have failed, and any proposal to also legalize recreational use will most assuredly be opposed by several lawmakers, as well as Gov. Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.

But Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, a leader in the petition drives, said Thursday that while passage in the Legislature would be an uphill battle, a debate would serve to educate senators and the public about the need for legalization.

“It’s important that we have multiple approaches,” Morfeld said. “If we can’t get it passed in the Legislature, we’ll collect another 125,000 signatures to get it on the ballot.”

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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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