Judge lifts major hurdle for Nebraska medical marijuana campaign | Health & Fitness

OMAHA, Nebraska (AP) — A federal judge in Nebraska has removed a major hurdle for activists who want to legalize medical marijuana through an election campaign, ruling that petition circulators no longer have to gather signatures of at least 5% of voters in 38 or more counties.

U.S. District Judge John Gerrard issued an order Monday to temporarily bar the state from enforcing the requirement, which is enshrined in the Nebraska Constitution to ensure at least some buy-in from rural voters before an issue can appear on a ballot. state ballot.

The ruling comes at a critical time for medical marijuana supporters, who have until July 7 to submit at least 87,000 valid signatures on each of two petitions to the Nebraska secretary of state. The campaign got off to a good start, but has had some problems since one of its main donors died, forcing organizers to rely mainly on volunteers.

in a lawsuit, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska argued that the requirement violates free speech and equal protection rights by making the signatures of some voters more valuable than others. They argued that, for signature-gathering purposes, one voter in sparsely populated Arthur County is equivalent to 1,216 voters in Douglas County, which includes Omaha.

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“The state of Nebraska is absolutely free to require a show of state support for a ballot initiative, but may not do so based on dramatically different population units, resulting in discrimination among voters,” Gerrard wrote in his failure, which will remain. valid until a final decision is made.

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Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen said he will appeal.

Nebraska’s population is heavily concentrated in its largest and mid-sized cities. The smallest of its 93 counties is among the least populous nationally, with several having fewer than 500 residents.

Nebraska State Sen. Anna Wishart, the campaign leader, said she and others still intend to collect signatures in all 93 counties, but that removing the constitutional restriction is a “huge victory” for Nebraskans who they want legal access to the drug for medicinal purposes. use.

“Nebraskans across the state support this issue because they know a loved one, friend or neighbor who is sick and would benefit from having access to medical cannabis,” he said.

ACLU attorney Jane Seu said the ruling will help protect direct democracy in Nebraska for all residents, regardless of where they live.

The 5% requirement has faced legal challenges before, including in 2014 when a federal judge declared it unconstitutional. An appeals court later reversed the decision on a technical and procedural issue, but did not rule on the merits of the case.

The ACLU said courts have struck down similar requirements in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is circulating two companion petitions and said it has collected a combined total of more than 80,000 signatures. The group needs 87,000 valid signatures on each petition before the deadline to qualify.

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