Medical marijuana lawsuit challenging Nebraska referendum requirements

Published: May. 16, 2022 at 4:47 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - The ACLU of Nebraska and Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana on Monday said they are filing a lawsuit alleging that Nebraska’s signature requirements to get on the ballot are unconstitutional.

Nebraska requires that a referendum needs signatures from at least 5% of registered voters in 38 out of 93 counties to get on the ballot. According to the ACLU, that requirement creates a roadblock in the petitioning process.

The two organizations announced during an online news conference Monday that they’re filing a new federal civil rights lawsuit against the state’s requirements on referendums. The ACLU of Nebraska and NMM’s lawsuit alleges the state’s law is unconstitutional, claiming it violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit states the current law treats signatures unequally due to geography, which the ACLU claims violates the principle of one person, one vote that is protected by the 14th Amendment.

The ACLU claims power is skewed in the favor of rural counties in Nebraska when it comes to ballot initiatives. They claim one vote in rural Arthur County has as much voting power as 1,216 Douglas County votes regarding signature thresholds.

The lawsuit also claims the county requirement adds an extra burden of cost and complexity to ballot initiatives, which the ACLU claims violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

Crista Eggers, the plaintiff and statewide campaign coordinator for NMM, says the county requirement makes it difficult for initiatives to make it on the ballot, even if they prove to be widely popular among voters.

“This unconstitutional roadblock makes it so prohibitive for Nebraskans without massive bank accounts to change our laws, even on incredibly popular issues like bringing access to medical cannabis to people who are suffering in Nebraska,” Eggers said.

This lawsuit is not the first to claim multicounty requirements regarding petitions are unconstitutional. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Illinois’ multicounty requirement violated residents’ rights. According to the ruling, Illinois’ requirement to get 200 signatures from a minimum of 50 counties was unfair, as more than 93% of the state’s population lived in the 49 most populated counties, and less than 6% lived in the other 53 counties.

NMM’s lawsuit comes as the group is attempting to put a referendum for medical marijuana on the November ballot. The group has been struggling to meet signature requirements in recent months.

The group did reach enough signatures to be put on the ballot in 2020, but the referendum was ultimately struck down by the Nebraska Supreme Court due to a technicality. The Nebraska Supreme Court said the medical marijuana initiative “violates the single subject rule,” by not having a “unifying purpose” according to the state constitution.

Read the lawsuit:

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