Nebraska is one of the last states where both medical and recreational marijuana are still illegal and the fight for legalization remains an uphill battle even up to this day. Last September, the state’s supreme court shot down a chance for residents to vote for medical marijuana when it ruled that a legalization initiative cannot appear on the November ballot due to a technicality.
Even though Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana was able to gather enough signatures in July for the measure to qualify, the local police issued a legal challenge against the effort, arguing that the proposal violated the state’s single-subject rule for ballot initiatives. Basically, the opponents contended that the measure contained various provisions in the measure which could confuse voters. The court agreed in favor of the plaintiff, saying that the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Constitutional Amendment contained at least eight subjects and therefore violates the single-subject rule. The justices explained that if voters were to intelligently adopt a State policy on the use of medical marijuana, they must first decide solely on that issue, unencumbered by other subjects.
In the same month after the ruling was handed down, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana immediately regrouped and submitted a new petition language for 2022. Another marijuana right group, Nebraska Families 4 Medical Cannabis, also published a voter guide grading candidates based on their stances.
Marijuana activist groups remain optimistic, saying that the setback doesn’t change the fact that an overwhelming majority of Nebraskans are in support of medical cannabis. A poll as early as 2018 seems to support this where as many as 77% said they would vote “yes” on a ballot that would allow medical cannabis.
Overview of Nebraska Marijuana Laws
At present, both medical and adult-use cannabis is illegal in Nebraska. Surprisingly, the penalties for possession of small amounts is not as harsh.
- Possession – Simple possession of up to an ounce on the first offense is only an infraction in Nebraska. It only gets a maximum fine of $300 without any jail time. However, it becomes a misdemeanor on subsequent offenses.
- Second offense with 1 oz or less – up to 5 days imprisonment and a maximum fine of $500.
- Third offense – up to 7 days imprisonment, same fine.
- More than 1 oz to 1 lbs – up to 3 months imprisonment, same fine.
- Sale – Selling any amount of marijuana in Nebraska is considered a Class III felony that gets a mandatory sentence of 1 year that can go up to 20 years and a maximum fine $25,000. Subsequent offenses receive a mandatory sentence of 3 years that can go up to 50.
- Cultivation – The penalties for cultivation is based on the aggregate weight of the plants found. The offense is treated the same as sale/manufacture and is considered a felony.
History of Marijuana in Nebraska
Hemp was already being farmed in Nebraska as early as 1887 where it was grown for industrial purposes in Fremont. Even before that, feral hemp plants known as “ditch weed” grew all over the state. However, after the prohibition that began in the 20s and 30s, marijuana in all forms remained illegal in the state up to this day.
It is strange to see a state that doesn’t have a medical marijuana program decriminalize simple possession as early as 1969, albeit partially. That year, penalties for first-time possession were reduced to no more than 7 days in jail. In 1977, it was further reduced to an infraction punishable by a $300 fine with no jail time.
The penalties were reduced mainly to bring down marijuana-related arrests but it inadvertently increased when Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2014. This issue even led to Nebraska and Oklahoma to take legal action, requesting the US Supreme Court to strike down Colorado’s legalization law. The two states reasoned that Colorado’s legal market caused a spillover of marijuana activity thus increasing spending on enforcement and causing social harm. They also pointed out that Colorado legislation was unconstitutional since it is preempted by federal law. The Court, however, ruled not to allow the suit to continue.
During this time, a bill seeking the legalization of medical marijuana was also filed by Sen. Tommy Garrett. LB 643 would have given patients with serious health conditions access to marijuana in liquid or pill form. However, the bill was blocked in 2016 by a Senate filibuster due to stiff opposition.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Nebraska
How do Nebraska marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Nebraska
No, adult-use cannabis is currently illegal in Nebraska.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in Nebraska.
No. Medical marijuana is still illegal in Nebraska.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is still not allowed in Nebraska.
The latest effort for medical marijuana legalization failed just this September. Even though marijuana advocates resubmitted their proposal immediately, it would still be taken up in 2022.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in Nebraska.
Growing cannabis at home in Nebraska is prohibited for people of all ages.
It will likely take a few years before legalization can come to Nebraska. While those looking for recreational weed can easily drive to Colorado or even buy from the black market, it is patients that require medical marijuana that need a legalization law the most. It has been pointed out that legalization actually makes the black market better in states where weed is prohibited and this is very likely to happen with Nebraska which is just right above Colorado, the third biggest weed market in the US.