The use of marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes in Nebraska is prohibited. However, the state has decriminalized the possession of small amounts (up to 1 ounce) of cannabis. Despite that, Nebraska still penalizes first-time cannabis possession offenders with a fine of up to $300 with no option of jail time. The state considers a first-time offense for possessing 1 ounce or less of marijuana an infraction. Subsequent possession offenses attract a prison sentence in addition to fines.
Nebraska has one of the strictest cannabis laws in the United States. It is one of the few states with no medical marijuana laws, hence no established medical cannabis program. A November 3, 2020, ballot initiative would have legalized medical marijuana in the state but was killed in the Nebraska High Court. The cultivation of marijuana plants is also prohibited in Nebraska, and its sale is considered a felony.
The sale of marijuana is prohibited in Nebraska, as the state has yet to legalize the substance. Hence, the state's economy is not feeling the impact of legalized cannabis as is in other states with legal marijuana markets. However, if marijuana is legalized in Nebraska, it will widen the state's tax revenue net. The government will be able to impose a tax on the sale of cannabis products and save citizens' tax currently being spent on marijuana ban enforcement. For instance, in 2014, Nebraska was reported to have spent at least $10.2 million on cannabis prohibition enforcement, an 11.6% increase from what was expended in 2013.
The Tax Foundation projects a potential excise tax revenue of about $35 million from marijuana if Nebraska legalizes cannabis. The Foundation arrived at this figure by considering the average excise tax revenues from marijuana by states with at least a three-year-old cannabis market.
Nebraska's marijuana possession arrests have been substantially higher than the number of cannabis sales/manufacture arrests made by law enforcement agencies over the years. Based on the arrest data provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), marijuana arrests accounted for 43% of Nebraska's total drug-related arrests reported to the FBI in 2018. The number of arrests reported for marijuana sales was 217, while 4,867 arrests were reportedly made for cannabis possession. In 2019, law enforcement in Nebraska reported 5,309 cannabis possession arrests and 261 marijuana sales arrests. The percentage of marijuana sales and possession arrests was 21% of the state's total drug-related arrests.
While it declined between 2018 and 2019, the percentage of marijuana sales and possession arrests of all drug-related arrests in Nebraska increased to 37% in 2020. According to reports, 58 arrests were made for marijuana sales, while 1,773 were made for cannabis possession. In 2021, the reported number of marijuana-related arrests further increased, with 3,932 possession arrests and 153 cannabis sales arrests. These reports indicate that Nebraska's marijuana crime rates usually take a large portion of all drug-related crimes in the state.
Nebraska first decriminalized the first-time possession offense of up to 1 ounce of marijuana in 1979. The state has a history of numerous failed attempts to legalize medical marijuana. In 2020, a Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative which would have legalized medical cannabis was removed from that year's ballot. The initiative sought to permit physicians to recommend marijuana to patients with certain debilitating conditions and allow such patients to buy and possess cannabis for medical purposes. It would have also allowed them to cultivate cannabis for personal use.
Having gathered over the required 121,669 signatures and set to appear on the 2020 ballot, Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner filed a lawsuit at the Supreme Court, praying the court strikes the initiative from the November 2020 ballot. The sheriff took this step after failing to convince the Nebraska Secretary of State to keep the initiative off the ballot. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the sheriff, and the Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative was struck out of the 2020 ballot.
In 2022, attempts by medical cannabis legalization advocates who sought to put a pair of medical cannabis access proposals before voters also failed. They were unable to gather the needed signatures to place the proposals on the November 2022 ballot. In January 2023, LB 588, a bill that would legalize certain forms of marijuana for medical use, was introduced by Senator Anna Wishart. If passed, the bill, cited as the Medicinal Cannabis Act, will create a framework for legalizing medical marijuana in Nebraska. The Judiciary Committee considered this bill in February 2023 but did not take immediate action. Another bill, Legislative Bill 634, was also introduced in January 2023. It seeks to legalize recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 years and over in Nebraska. However, none of these bills has been enacted as of early 2024.