By Grant Schulte, Associated Press
(AP) — Nebraska voters won’t get the chance to legalize medical marijuana this year after the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the measure set to appear on the November ballot is unconstitutional.
The court’s ruling was a win for social conservatives, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, who argued that the state shouldn’t legalize a drug that isn’t approved by federal regulators.
The court also ruled that a measure to allow casino gambling can appear on the ballot, despite opposition from Ricketts and other conservatives who say it will contribute to gambling addiction and bankruptcies. The rulings came one day before the legal deadline to certify both measures for the general ballot.
Justices concluded that the medical marijuana proposal violated Nebraska’s “single subject rule” for ballot measures, which bars activists from bunching multiple issues into a single yes-or-no question for voters to address. Specifically, they took issue with provisions that would allow people to use marijuana while also produce it in-state, among other issues.
“If voters are to intelligently adopt a state policy with regard to medicinal cannabis use, they must first be allowed to decide that issue alone, unencumbered by other subjects,” the court said in its opinion.
State Sen. Adam Morfeld, of Lincoln, a leading figure in the medical marijuana ballot campaign, said the campaign was deeply disappointed with the ruling but vowed to continue fighting for legalization. He said backers will revive the issue with a new petition measure and a bill in the state legislature.
“This does not end here,” he said.
Backers of both causes announced in July that they had gathered more than enough signatures to submit the issues to voters. They launched the campaign after Nebraska lawmakers repeatedly rejected measures to legalize casino gambling and medical marijuana.
Gambling advocates also tried a ballot drive in 2016 but failed to gather enough signatures. Evnen said organizers of this year’s drive collected the required number of signatures to qualify. But he said letters submitted to him from the attorneys of gambling opponents pointed out what he considers to be misleading ballot language.
The gambling drive was spearheaded by horse-racing advocates and Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, which poured millions of dollars into the effort.
The three measures would have changed Nebraska’s constitution to allow gambling and created two laws to regulate and tax the industry. If passed, some of the tax revenue would be funneled into a state property tax credit.
Evnen took issue with one of the ballot measures that said casino gambling would only be allowed at state-licensed racetracks. He said the statement was “materially misleading” to voters because the measure would also allow casinos on tribal lands in Nebraska, even if they don’t have a racetrack.
The court rejected Evnen’s argument, noting that the measures are broken into three separate items that voters can consider individually.