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. In September 2020, 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.
However, advocates and lawmakers in support of marijuana reform are still working tirelessly to hasten the inevitability of legalization in the Cornhusker State. Undiscouraged by last year’s setback, the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana have already submitted a new petition for a 2022 medical cannabis initiative. The group is also planning to file a parallel measure for recreational marijuana and will be ramping up its signature campaign in late spring or summer this year.
Lawmakers are also busy filing pro-marijuana legislation in hopes of scoring a victory in 2021, however unlikely it may seem. LB 481, introduced by Sen. Terrell McKinney, seeks to strike marijuana from state laws criminalizing drugs and expunging past convictions for possession. LB 474, by Sen. Anna Wishart, reintroduces a new version of her Medicinal Cannabis Act which aims to establish a system regulating the production, processing, and distribution of medical marijuana. Lastly, LR2CA, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne, is a constitutional amendment that seeks to legalize “the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, consumption, and sale of cannabis in any form”.
Although supporters are fighting an uphill battle, activist groups remain optimistic since Nebraskans are now on their side. A poll as early as 2018 showed that as many as 77% said they would vote “yes” on a ballot that would allow medical cannabis.
This article was reviewed and updated for 2021.
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.
Advocacy group Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana says that it has already submitted a new petition for a 2022 medical cannabis initiative as well as a parallel measure for recreational marijuana. They will be ramping up a signature campaign in late spring or summer this year.
Democratic lawmakers are also busy lining up pro-marijuana legislation for 2021. LB 481, introduced by Sen. Terrell McKinney, seeks to strike marijuana from state laws criminalizing drugs and expunging past convictions for possession. LB 474, by Sen. Anna Wishart, reintroduces a new version of her Medicinal Cannabis Act which aims to establish a system regulating the production, processing, and distribution of medical marijuana. Lastly, LR2CA, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne, is a constitutional amendment that seeks to legalize “the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, consumption, and sale of cannabis in any form”.
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.