Federal Judge Sides With Medical Marijuana Supporters on Ballot Petition Lawsuit

June 14, 2022, noon ·

Volunteer Nicole Hochstein of Papillion, left, chats with Leslie Kwasnieski of Omaha as she signs a petition for a ballot initiative in support of medical cannabis during the Omaha Farmers Market at the Old Market
Volunteer Nicole Hochstein of Papillion, left, chats with Leslie Kwasnieski of Omaha as she signs a petition for a ballot initiative in support of medical cannabis during the Omaha Farmers Market at the Old Market. (Photo courtesy Rebecca Gratz)

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A federal judge ruled Monday a petition drive in Nebraska does not need to obtain signatures from 5% of voters in at least 38 counties, dealing a win for the medical marijuana supporters who challenged the state law.

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana and the ACLU of Nebraska sued the Nebraska Secretary of State last month, saying that signature burden was unconstitutional for two of their petitions. The U.S. District Court of Nebraska judge agreed. John Gerrard said the current requirements unfairly gives more power to petitions signers in rural counties than citizens in more populated parts of the state.

"This decision we got from the court yesterday shows that the Court agrees with us – that it's likely to be unconstitutional," said Jane Seu, an ACLU of Nebraska attorney. "We're glad to see that we got this temporary injunction that is going to reduce this barrier for our clients and for all Nebraskans."

A similar case in 2014 also won at the district level, but the decision was later reversed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court threw out the case on a technicality, not on the merit of the arguments.

"We think procedurally we've set ourselves up for a different and stronger case," Seu said.

The Nebraska Attorney General, who represented the state’s interest, was not made available for an interview.

The the case "raises important legal questions," Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a statement. “Therefore we will take the steps necessary to get the matter before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals as soon as possible.”

Petitioners will need to collect, with no geographical requirement, roughly 87,000 signatures per petition by July 7. According to the ACLU of Nebraska, so far Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana has collected more than 80,000 total signatures for the two petitions.