Hey, Nebraskans, that tick, tick, tick you hear is the countdown to inauguration day for Joe Biden. His oath rings in a new era of government in which a Democrat majority now commands both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Add the White House, and the change on lawmakers ushers in an era with lots of new ideas that stand a greater chance of approval now than they did just a few weeks ago.
Coming down the pike are proposals to rescue the environment, make college a tuition-free proposition and legalize recreational marijuana — to name a few.
Each of those ideas would profoundly affect life in the Cornhusker State. Consider, for example, an environmental proposal that would outlaw or severely restrict cattle ranching because the animals create too much atmosphere-harming methane gas. How might free college tuition affect Nebraska, and more specifically, how would it affect college towns like Kearney?
And then there’s recreational marijuana. Nebraska’s old guard doesn’t want the stuff; however, there’s a groundswell of support for legalizing marijuana, and not just the industrial variety that was grudgingly approved in 2018.
As most Nebraskans know, industrial hemp doesn’t have the chemicals that produce a “high,” yet it was challenging to win the legal right to produce the stuff in Nebraska.
Ironically, recreational marijuana might face an easier path to legalization.
In 2020, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana collected 182,000 signatures — 110% of the needed number — to put a measure before voters legalizing medical cannabis. The ballot measure was torpedoed, however, because Nebraska law limits ballot measures to single issues. That’s why casino gambling proponents separated their proposal into three ballot questions, and all three won voter approval in November.
The medical marijuana measure was removed from the ballot, but a north Omaha senator in the Unicameral has introduced LR2CA, a constitutional amendment to legalize “the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, consumption and sale of cannabis in any form” on Oct. 1, 2023. Nebraskans would vote on Sen. Justin Wayne’s amendment in 2022. He said it’s important Nebraskans approve the marijuana proposal because businesses could make big money if Nebraskans legalize recreational marijuana before it’s approved at the federal level.
Does recreational marijuana — and the medical variety, for that matter, stand a chance in Nebraska? The success of last year’s petition drive suggests “yes.” So does South Dakotans’ approval of recreational pot in November. Fifty-four percent of voters in the traditionally conservative state supported the measure, and 70% OK’d medical marijuana. Now recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado and South Dakota. Missouri has medical marijuana.
Will Nebraska ever join that club? Maybe we’ll see in two years.