LINCOLN, Neb. — Groups are pushing for separate state ballot measures that would either decriminalize pot possession for personal use, or legalize marijuana entirely.

One group wanting to legalize marijuana entirely with a broader constitutional amendment has filed 2018 petition language with the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office, the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/2d0cnv8 ) reported.

Another group pushing to eliminate the state’s penalties for those caught with small amounts of pot has begun gathering signatures to put the issue before voters in 2018.

Volunteers began gathering signatures for the more limited proposal Aug. 5. The group is targeting high-traffic areas and events such as last week’s Omaha rally by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

Mark Elworth Jr. wrote the petition, which would allow voters to eliminate penalties for people caught with an ounce or less of marijuana while keeping stricter laws in place for dealers or those who possess greater quantities of the drug.

The state technically decriminalized first-time marijuana possession in the 1970s, but people caught with an ounce or less are still subject to a $300 fine. Stricter, criminal penalties, including possible jail time, apply for subsequent offenses.

Elworth said the most significant consequence for being caught with pot is the permanent record it creates.

“We’re trying to protect people,” he said. “Those minor in possession tickets. … they can ruin people’s lives.”

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson opposes the initiative. He said legalizing less than an ounce of pot would send the “wrong message” that the drug is harmless. Young people, particularly those predisposed to mental illness, are at risk for experiencing long-term consequences from regular marijuana use, he said.

Elworth, 40, said he has been smoking marijuana for more than 25 years.

“The lawmakers are really out of touch with what’s going on in our society,” Elworth said.


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com