Court Rules Oklahoma Won’t Vote On Legalizing Pot in November

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that voters will get to decide on a ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, but not until after this year’s general election in November. The state’s highest court rejected an appeal from the group Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws that would have required the State Election Board to include State Question 820 on the ballot for this year’s vote.

“There is no way to mandate the inclusion of SQ820 on the November 2022 general election ballot,” Justice Douglas Combs wrote in the majority opinion. “SQ820 will be voted upon by the people of Oklahoma, albeit either at the next general election following November 8, 2022, or at a special election set by the Governor or the Legislature.”

In July, Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws submitted petitions with signatures from more than 164,000 voters in favor of the legalization initiative, exceeding the number required to qualify for the ballot by more than 70,000 signatures. But the secretary of state’s office, which was using a new system to verify signatures, took far longer to certify the signatures than in previous elections, leaving too little time to include the question on this fall’s ballot, according to election officials.

Jeffrey Cartmell, counselor to the secretary of state, said the service provided by the third-party vendor to check signatures was possibly the first “true signature verification process” ever used by the state.  

“This new process differs significantly from the historical practice of merely counting the number of individuals who signed the petition without regard for their voter registration status,” Cartmell wrote in a statement to News 9.

The Supreme Court also issued a decision on legal challenges to State Question 820 on Wednesday, ruling against two petitions that sought changes in the measure’s ballot title and summary. The justices also denied requests for rehearings on two challenges to the signature gathering process that the court had already rejected.

“It is disappointing that a few people with their own political interests were able to use the process to prevent voters from voting on this in November,” campaign director Michelle Tilley said in a statement. “However, we cannot lose sight of how far we have come. This is a big deal. Now the petition phase is finished, and Oklahomans will be voting to legalize recreational marijuana here, and we can soon realize all the benefits it will bring to our state.”

State Question 820 Would Legalize Rec Weed in Oklahoma

If the proposal is eventually passed, State Question 820 would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older. The ballot initiative would also task the state’s existing Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with drafting and implementing rules to regulate the new recreational cannabis industry. The measure also includes provisions to allow those with past convictions for some marijuana offenses to petition the courts to reverse their convictions and have their criminal record expunged.

State Question 820 would set a 15% tax on sales of recreational marijuana, more than double the 7% tax rate levied on sales of medical cannabis. Taxes generated by the sale of recreational pot would be divided among the state’s General Revenue Fund, local governments that allow licensed adult-use cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdiction, the state court system, school districts, and drug treatment programs.

With the Supreme Court’s decision, State Question 820 will not be presented to the electorate until the 2024 general election, unless a special election is called by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, who has expressed opposition to the proposal. But he has also said that the nation’s patchwork policy of cannabis legalization and prohibition has become problematic.

“Do I wish that the feds would pass legalized marijuana? Yes. I think that would solve a lot of issues from all these different states,” Stitt recently told The Associated Press. “But in our state, just trying to protect our state right now, I don’t think it would be good for Oklahoma.”

Arshad Lasi, CEO of Oklahoma licensed medical marijuana company The Nirvana Group, said that news of the Supreme Court’s decision “is disappointing because the industry and consumers here alike were optimistic that recreational marijuana would make it onto the ballot and be voted into law.”

“This setback may make things especially difficult for smaller businesses, who will likely continue to face challenges navigating this saturated market but growing market,” Lasi said in an email to High Times. “We are optimistic that another opportunity for adult-use marijuana may be possible via a special election in the coming months. However, if that doesn’t prevail we may not have another chance for two years.”

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Oklahoma Supreme Court To Consider Whether Legalization Initiative Will Qualify For Ballot

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to settle a dispute surrounding a recreational cannabis initiative that could appear on the state’s ballot this year, giving hope to activists that the proposal may still qualify.

Last week, the prospects for the initiative appeared grim. Although the Oklahoma secretary of state confirmed that organizers had submitted more than the requisite number of signatures for the proposal to qualify for the ballot, supporters lamented that it likely would not be certified before the August 29 deadline.

As the Associated Press detailed on Tuesday, Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, the group behind the proposal, known as State Question 820, “gathered enough signatures to qualify…for a statewide vote, but because it took longer than usual to count the signatures, it’s not clear if there is enough time to get the question printed on ballots ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.”

Supporters of State Question 820 petitioned the Oklahoma Supreme Court to settle the matter.

“Since filing their initiative more than six months ago, proponents have done everything in their power to expedite the unwieldy Oklahoma initiative petition process so the People of Oklahoma can exercise their right to vote on the measure at the next general election,” the Yes on 820 campaign wrote in the petition, as quoted by the Associated Press. “Yet they have been stymied by state officials (or their hand-picked vendors) who are either unable or unwilling to perform their administrative duties in a timely and efficient manner.”

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court “issued an order assuming jurisdiction to decide if the state question will appear on the November 2022 ballot,” according to Tulsa Public Radio, a decision that pleased the SQ 820 campaign.

According to the station, “the measure has to make it through the 10-day publication period before Court Justices will approve it for the general election.”

“We’re actually thrilled,” campaign director Michelle Tilley said, as quoted by local news station Fox 25. “We’re thrilled because the Supreme Court has recognized that we have enough valid signatures to go forward, and we are thrilled because they have left open the possibility that after our 10-day protest period is over, that they have jurisdiction to place this on the ballot in November.”

“We’ve done what we’ve had to do, we’ve really really worked hard,” Tilley added, as quoted by Tulsa Public Radio. “We even turned in our signatures 30 days early. We’ve done everything to try and make these deadlines, and it’s hard. We’re playing by the rules and then the rules change, so.”

The 820 campaign has been stymied in particular by a new ballot system implemented this year in Oklahoma.

The Associated Press reports that “while the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office has typically handled counting signatures in house, the process this year involved a contract with a company connected to a political polling firm to provide software and technical assistance to help verify the voter registration status of signatories,” and that as a result, “supporters say a signature-counting process that typically takes two to three weeks took nearly seven weeks to complete.”

“This new process differs significantly from the historical practice of merely counting the number of individuals who signed the petition without regard for their voter registration status,” Oklahoma Secretary of State Brian Bingman said in a statement, as quoted by the Associated Press. “Our office has been in constant communication with the proponents and we look forward to working with them and other interested parties as we continue to improve this new process.”

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Oklahoma Legislation Appears To Fall Short of Ballot

A recreational legalization initiative in Oklahoma may be in jeopardy of not making it to the state ballot this November, despite organizers gathering more than enough signatures to qualify.

The leaders of the “Yes On 820 Campaign” said on Monday that the Oklahoma secretary of state confirmed that the group had submitted more than 117,000 valid signatures –– well above the roughly 95,000 signature threshold for a question to be placed on the state ballot.

But according to the Oklahoma Watch, the group “faces several obstacles in the last part of its journey to the ballot as another challenge period will last at least 10 business days and the state Election Board needs time to print ballots for overseas voters.”

 “The certification by the secretary of state now goes to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which must determine if the signature verification meets the sufficiency requirements. That then starts a 10-day process for anyone to challenge the signature verification,” the Oklahoma Watch reported.

The “Yes on 820 Campaign,” which submitted more than 164,000 signatures to the Oklahoma secretary of state’s office last month, celebrated the validation of the signatures on Monday, but expressed concern that the question will not be in front of the state’s voters come November.

Complicating matters, according to the campaign, is the fact that the Oklahoma secretary of state’s office is using a private vendor in the ballot certification process for the first time.

“The last petition Oklahomans voted on took 17 days to count 313,000 signatures,” Michelle Tilley, the campaign director for “Yes on 820,” said in a statement, as quoted by the Oklahoma Watch. “In contrast, we submitted half that amount and it has taken three times as long. This delay means the election board may not receive the green light to print the ballot in time for voters to vote on it in November.”  

The Oklahoma Watch has more on the bureaucratic minutiae: “The governor has the sole authority to call the election for ballot initiatives once the challenge period expires. For all practical purposes, that means the process must be completed by Friday, the state election board told Gov. Kevin Stitt in a letter dated June 22. It said the statutory deadline is Aug. 29 and is in place because the Election Board has to have time to print and mail absentee ballots to overseas voters like those in the military. In a filing with the Supreme Court, the Yes on 820 campaign said the state’s new signature verification system, run by Western Petition Systems, took longer than anyone anticipated.”

State Question 820 would “safely regulate, and tax recreational marijuana for adults 21+ in Oklahoma,” which the campaign asserts “will generate revenue for important priorities for Oklahomans, including schools, health care, and local governments.”

Oklahoma is one of several traditional “red states” where voters could have the chance to end the prohibition on pot this November, with legalization proposals already qualifying for the ballot in Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Activists in those states, citing reams of polling, contend that cannabis legalization is veering on a bipartisan consensus in the country, with conservative and liberal voters alike increasingly backing the policy.

After getting word from the secretary of state’s office, the Yes on 820 campaign said Monday that the “overwhelming number of signatures shows that Oklahomans are ready for sensible marijuana laws.”

Tilley and senior campaign adviser Ryan Kiesel sang a similar tune last month, after turning in the signatures to the secretary of state.

“We’re expecting Oklahomans to say yes to this,” Kissel said at the time.

“Oklahomans don’t think that people should be continually punished for something that’s no longer a crime,” he added.

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Oklahoma Puts Moratorium On Issuing New Medical Cannabis Licenses

State officials in Oklahoma have put a moratorium on issuing new licenses for medical marijuana businesses in a bid to allow the state’s cannabis regulators to catch up with oversight of a burgeoning medicinal cannabis industry. Under the moratorium, which was passed by state lawmakers earlier this year, no new licenses for medical growers, processors or dispensaries will be issued by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) for a period of at least two years.

Oklahoma voters legalized the use and sale of medical pot with the approval of State Question 788 in 2018, a ballot measure that created the least tightly regulated legal cannabis market in the nation. Corbin Wyatt, owner of Likewise Dispensary, said that the state’s medical marijuana law included few barriers to entry for entrepreneurs seeking opportunities in cannabis.

“It was easy,” Wyatt told local media. “You pay $2,500 and you can open your business pretty much anywhere.”

In May, Oklahoma lawmakers passed House Bill 3208, which puts a two-year pause on issuing new licenses for medical cannabis businesses. The new restrictions under the measure were originally scheduled to become effective on August 1, but bills must go into effect at least 90 days after passage unless they gain a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature. The bill was signed by Governor Kevin Stitt on May 26, making it effective on August 26 under state law.

Applications for new medical cannabis businesses submitted before the moratorium goes into effect will be processed by the OMMA. But applications that are denied or received after the deadline will not be considered until 2024 at the earliest.

Mark Woodward, public information officer for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN), said the state already has over 2,200 medical dispensaries, making oversight of the businesses by state regulators a logistical challenge.

“That’s a tremendous amount of dispensaries,” Woodward told a Tulsa television news crew. “It’s more than California, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Nevada and New Mexico combined.”

Unlicensed Businesses Are Operating Outside the Law

Woodward said that many of the businesses that have been operating in the state, even some that have been licensed by the OMMA, have been producing cannabis for shipment out of Oklahoma illegally. He added that some of the state’s 8,500 medical weed cultivators have ties to organized crime organizations from the United States, Mexico, and China that have moved into the state, many during the COVID-19 pandemic, to take advantage of Oklahoma’s inexpensive licensing fees and relatively lax cannabis regulations.

“We’ve talked to our law enforcement partners from New York to Florida, and they say we are the number one supplier of black market marijuana on the East Coast,” he said.

Woodward said that some of the state’s licensed medical dispensaries are selling cannabis that has been produced by illicit growers and processors. He added that the pause in new businesses will give regulators and the OBN an opportunity to regulate the state’s medical marijuana supply chain more closely.

“This moratorium will allow us to focus on those we already have in place and make sure they’re either following the law or going after those bad actors,” he explained.

Matt Boyd, the owner of the Green Cross Meds cannabis dispensary in Tulsa, said that the state’s saturated market has caused profits from his business to drop by two-thirds.

“In the last year, I’m not the only dispensary owner that has felt a decline in business, and it’s not because of anything we’ve done different,” he explained. “It’s just because there’s been so many dispensaries that have opened up. Just the limit of ‘no more new dispensaries’ coming into business is gonna help all of us existing dispensary owners now.”

Boyd said that the two-year moratorium on new retailer licenses will slow the impact on existing retailers.

“It’s time to allow a market that’s brand new, a brand-new grassroots industry in our state, to kinda have some balance, y’know?” Boyd said. “And that’s just what it’s gonna take.”

Oklahoma lawmakers recently passed a total of 12 bills to tighten regulations on the state’s medical cannabis industry, including a requirement that new dispensaries and cultivation operations be located at least 1,000 ft. from schools. The moratorium on the issuance of new licenses is scheduled to be in effect until August 1, 2024, or until the medical marijuana authority catches up on the backlog of pending applications. But some business owners believe that may never happen.

“Until the OMMA either feels that they are able to control everything and it’s an opportune time to issue new licenses, but most people are saying that won’t ever come,” Wyatt said.

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Oklahoma Activists Submit Signatures for Recreational Pot Legalization Initiative

Oklahoma activists met a significant milestone in their efforts to legalize recreational cannabis this week with the submission of more than 164,000 signatures on petitions to qualify an adult-use weed legalization ballot initiative for this year’s general election. Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws submitted the signatures for State Question 820 to the Secretary of State’s office at the state Capitol on Tuesday, nearly a month before the deadline to qualify for the November ballot.

If passed, State Question 820 would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older. The statutory initiative would also task the state’s existing Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with drafting and implementing regulations to govern the new adult-use cannabis industry.

Representatives of the campaign said that collecting signatures for the ballot measure was brisk throughout the state and polling data showed strong support for the initiative. Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws had until August 1 to submit 94,910 to qualify the measure for this year’s ballot, with Tuesday’s submission eclipsing that total by nearly 70,000 signatures.

“The overwhelming number of signatures we have received demonstrates that our campaign has the momentum and that Oklahomans are ready to vote to legalize recreational marijuana for adults,” campaign director Michelle Tilley in a statement quoted by The Journal Record.

Senior campaign adviser Ryan Kiesel said that he expects the initiative to be popular with voters when they go to the polls in November.

“We’re expecting Oklahomans to say yes to this,” he told local media.

Initiative Includes Expungement Provisions

State Question 820 also includes provisions to allow some people with past cannabis convictions to petition the courts to reverse their conviction and have their criminal record expunged. Campaign representatives believe that tens of thousands of people could benefit from having their records cleared under the cannabis legalization initiative.

“Oklahomans don’t think that people should be continually punished for something that’s no longer a crime,” Kiesel said.

State Question 820 would set a 15% tax on adult-use cannabis sales, more than twice the 7% tax rate levied on sales of medical cannabis. Taxes generated by the sale of recreational pot would be divided among the state’s General Revenue Fund, local governments that allow licensed adult-use cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdiction, the state court system, school districts and drug treatment programs. Kiesel noted that legalizing recreational cannabis gives the state a new source of significant revenue.

“To be clear, medical marijuana was never really meant to be a revenue generator for the state, it’s about medicine,” Kiesel said. “When you move over to recreational, it is a revenue generator. The revenue that we’ve seen generated with medical marijuana, we anticipate will be even larger with recreational.”

While petitions supporting the measure received strong support in the state’s metropolitan areas, Kiesel noted that Question 820 was also popular with voters outside Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

“From Woodward to Ardmore and Broken Bow to Tulsa, our campaign has been everywhere,” Kiesel said. “We have been overwhelmed by the tremendous outpouring of support for State Question 820 and the momentum of our campaign. The massive number of signatures we collected means that Oklahoma voters are ready to take the next step in common-sense marijuana laws and make major investments in critical state services.”

Constitutional Amendment Initiative Would Also Legalize Recreational Pot in Oklahoma

A separate group, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, is campaigning to pass a state constitutional initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults. Because the measure, State Question 819, would amend the Oklahoma Constitution, the group was given 90 days to collect 177,957 signatures in favor of the initiative to qualify for the November ballot.

As a constitutional amendment, State Question 819 would be subject to only minor modifications of its provisions by the state legislature if passed, with more substantial changes requiring another vote of the people. State Question 820, however, is at risk of more significant changes by lawmakers because it is a statutory initiative.

Jed Green, director of Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, said that recreational pot legalization should be enshrined in the state constitution to protect it from being rolled back by a state legislature that has refused to legalize cannabis for use by adults.

“The problem we’ve got with the statutory measure in place is the legislature is applying the Oklahoma double standard to our businesses,” Green said. “They came in and, all of a sudden, jacked up a bunch of fees and threw a bunch of extra regulations on us.”

In 2018, Oklahomans legalized medical cannabis with the passage of State Question 788. Because that initiative is also a statutory measure, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action is also campaigning for passage of State Question 818, which would amend the state constitution to protect the legalization of medical cannabis. The group has until August 22 to collect signatures for both proposed initiatives.

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Oklahoma Lawmakers Pass Bill To Increase Penalties For Selling Medical Cannabis to Non-Cardholders

Lawmakers in Oklahoma have signed off on a bill that would stiffen penalties for individuals who purchase medical cannabis and then sell the product to non-cardholders.

After previously earning passage in the state House, the Oklahoma state Senate gave approval to the measure.

“As many Oklahomans know, when State Question 788 was passed to legalize medical marijuana, we were quickly thrown into a situation where we needed to create the framework and guidelines for this industry,” said GOP state Sen. Lonnie Paxton, who authored the legislation. “Unfortunately, this led to the inadvertent mixing of medical marijuana legislation and criminal justice reform legislation, resulting in the ability for someone to buy marijuana product legally, but then re-sell it to a child or someone who doesn’t have their card, with only an administrative fine. Ultimately, this is drug dealing, but only with the equivalent offense of a traffic ticket. SB 1367 fixes this loophole and makes this practice a criminal offense.”

According to a release from the Oklahoma state Senate on Monday, the “measure increases the fine for a person who intentionally or improperly diverts medical marijuana from $200 to $400 on the first offense, and from $500 to $1,000 on the second offense.’ Should someone get busted for a third time, “they could lose their medical marijuana license,” according to the release, which said that the bill “also increases the fines for sales or transfers of medical marijuana to unauthorized persons to $5,000 for the first violation and $15,000 for subsequent violations.”

“I want to be very clear that we are going after the black-market medical marijuana industry and drug dealers with this bill—not college friends who are sharing marijuana product with no money exchanged,” Paxton said in a statement. “These black-market dealers are targeting and selling marijuana to our kids and others who don’t have a medical card, and we are giving our law enforcement officials the ability to do their jobs and prosecute these offenders under criminal violation of the law.”

The bill now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt. Should it receive his signature, the new law would take effect on November 1.

Voters in Oklahoma passed a ballot initiative legalizing medical cannabis in 2018.

Earlier this year, regulators in the Sooner State approved details of a new tracking system that was required in a bill passed by lawmakers in 2019.

The Oklahoman reported earlier this year that the implementation “of the tracking system is seen as a major step toward curbing the illegal cultivation and sale of marijuana in Oklahoma,” with officials in the state saying that “it would improve the effectiveness and speed of any future recall efforts, while allowing law enforcement to detect unusual patterns that may indicate the product is being diverted to the black market.”

The approval from the regulators in late February meant that medical cannabis dispensaries in Oklahoma had 90 days to comply with the requirements under the new system, which aims to ensure that all cannabis products adhere to state regulations.

“It’s going to help us with that chain of custody of every single product in the state,” Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority Director Adria Berry said at the time, as quoted by The Oklahoman. “If there is a product that is not in the seed-to-sale tracking system, then it is not legal—and we will be able to discover that quickly.”

Cannabis advocates are hoping to build on the success of the medical cannabis program in Oklahoma. In January, a group of activists announced a campaign to get a recreational cannabis legalization initiative on the state ballot this year.

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Oklahoma Thieves Impersonate Cops and Raid Several Pot Farms

On March 13, a group of six individuals—donned in believable law enforcement gear—furnished a fake search warrant and attempted to raid a Hughes County, Oklahoma medical cannabis grow operation in a brazen attack. The next day, other locations were hit including a medical cannabis business in Seminole County. Over 100 pounds of cannabis, machines, cash and cell phones were stolen. Law enforcement agents believe the rash of incidents are connected.

The names of the cannabis businesses weren’t released. Cannabis farms are already a target given cannabis’ value, but being forced to deal in cash due to the federal status of cannabis makes the industry a bit more dangerous.

Mark Woodward, spokesman of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBN) agrees. “I think that’s what makes them a target,” Woodward told High Times. “There are people who see an easy opportunity to get both cannabis, money and cellphones very quickly—especially from a vulnerable population.”

The group of bandits wore uniforms and masks, saying they worked for the “Oklahoma Marijuana Board” which doesn’t exist, and wore Oklahoma Highway Patrol uniforms. They demanded cash for a supposed compliance violation fine. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA), however, would be in charge of compliance had there been an actual compliance violation. OMMA officials do not demand for fines to be paid immediately at gunpoint.

Woodward suspects criminals are targeting immigrant cannabis workers, who often find work in the fields of cannabis farms or in other roles. As it turns out, COVID pushed thousands of Chinese immigrant workers into Oklahoma’s cannabis farm country. The “trimmigrant” phenomenon seen in other states took root in Oklahoma as well.

“These farms where there are oftentimes Chinese workers who don’t speak English—they won’t recognize traditional law enforcement,” Woodward said. “They’re not familiar with what Oklahoma law enforcement or what uniforms might look like or what a fraudulent warrant looks like compared to legitimate ones. And so these criminals count on that. That’s why they targeted these specific farms. They saw it as an easy opportunity to take advantage of these workers and hit the farm and take product. They also took some cell phones and cash.” 

Woodward told The Oklahoman that one person has been taken into custody. Cash and cannabis is the draw for these criminals, he said.

District Attorney Paul Smith—representing both Hughes and Seminole counties—will lead the investigation. The District Attorney’s Drug and Violent Crime Task Force will join the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate cases of robbery, kidnapping and drug trafficking. 

At one business, a worker immediately sent her attorney Donald Gies a frantic text and determined on speakerphone that the agents weren’t legitimate. One of the imposter agents wore a Darth Maul Halloween mask. At another farm, the thieves tied up the workers and stole 100 pounds of cannabis, their machines, cell phones and cash

“There’s one in Hughes County that they hit over the weekend, then my client, who was number two, then they went down the street to [the third farm],” Gies told High Times. Gies’ client underwent a terrifying situation, but handled it in the best way possible at the time.

Gies told KOCO 5 that the bandits attempted to raid his clients farm, gave up, then raided a second farm down the road. At the second farm, the bandits tied up the workers at gunpoint, and took 100 pounds of cannabis and machines. He also told News 9 that their uniforms looked like Oklahoma Highway Patrol uniforms and wore masks.

We asked Gies how other businesses in Oklahoma can protect themselves. “I have a mental checklist,” he said. “First and foremost—keep a folder accessible near your door that contains your active OMMA license and OBN registration number. So if an officer is at your door, you can display that immediately. Secondly, ask for identification, badge numbers and what agency.”

Gies continued, “In our instance, I could hear my client do that on speakerphone, and they said ‘Oklahoma Marijuana Board’ which doesn’t exist. So we figured out they weren’t cops in fact. Then after that, ask to see the warrant. Before you let anyone into your space, the warrant has to include the subject’s name, address, the reason and it needs to be signed by a judge. I know that in an intense moment, but that will show you accuracy. Finally, I would call your attorney and put them on speakerphone. That’s actually what helped my client out the most. The criminal was fully aware that she had access to the outside world.”

Adria Berry, director of the OMMA, said there is a continued effort to increase the organization’s enforcement and tracking capabilities in a March 15 briefing. 

“We encourage OMMA-licensed businesses to contact local law enforcement if they are suspicious of a person or group claiming to be OMMA investigators,” a representative from the OMMA told High Times. “Licensees can ask officers to see identification. If they are OMMA enforcement agents, they will be armed, and will be able to produce a badge and commission card that includes their photo, title, the OMMA emblem and State Department of Health logo. Typically, agents will be wearing a black polo with an OMMA enforcement emblem, as well.”

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Highest Intent Founder Brendon Wilder Left Religion and Found Cannabis

Countless people practice religion throughout the world, and it holds sway over their beliefs and even their livelihoods. Some find religious beliefs to be an essential way to find meaning outside of the self or to understand their role or destiny in the world. For Brendon Wilder and his wife, owners of new Oklahoma-based cannabis brand Highest Intent, religion was once a big part of their lives. Eventually, they realized that they were unhappy with their religion, and they chose to celebrate their own lives and step away from Christianity. Once that happened, cannabis entered Wilder’s life which led to the launch of his cannabis brand. Wilder shares his journey from Christian to cannabis business owner, and the path that has led him to launch a new brand in Oklahoma, one of the country’s rapidly growing cannabis markets.

You previously practiced Christianity with a “megachurch.” What made you leave the church, and what did you hope to accomplish afterwards?

It’s pretty crazy, but I grew up in that church for 15 years. It was the number one influence in my life above school, my parents, and anything else from the time I was 10 years old. As I gave more and more of myself to “God’s plan,” I was growing increasingly unhappy. It was really a matter of time before all of the suppression of my own emotions would boil over.

Looking back, it’s clear to see that I didn’t truly respect and love myself. Instead, I was trying to earn that love, respect, and approval from other people and “god.” Toward the end of my time there, I remember repeatedly asking myself: “If this is what the rest of my life looks like, am I happy with that?”

Long story short, I left religion/church because for the first time, I felt that I deserved my own version of happiness. I’d had enough “suffering for Christ” and was ready to start enjoying my life. I was leaving my career, the passions I had developed, and all of my 10-15 year friendships. I really had NO CLUE where I would go next in life, I only knew that I wanted out of religion. For the first time, I was ready to live my life for myself.

How did that decision coincide with your journey into the cannabis industry?

The first time I smoked cannabis was almost one year after I left my “church life.” Summer ’16 will always be remembered fondly for that reason (shoutout my homie Jimmy that rolled the blunt)! I grew up around cannabis being a “drug,” so it took a while to unlearn and reprogram my views on things. One short year after my first puff, I found myself taking hourly “vape breaks” from my nine-to-five office job in Dallas, Texas. It was becoming obvious that cannabis was the medicine I needed to heal and grow beyond my past. Cannabis allowed me the space to feel things deeply, address those emotions, and grow from them, rather than suppress them.

As I began to see the personal benefits of consuming more regularly, I began to seek out opportunities that would allow me to move to a state where cannabis isn’t a “drug,” unlike Texas. I had a deep desire to learn more about this plant and the culture that surrounds it that has only grown with time. I always had dreams of eventually starting my own business, but had never found the thing that impacted me enough to earn my passion. Cannabis had done that.

You originally moved from Texas to Oregon, and then most recently to Oklahoma. Can you tell us more about the driving factors for these moves?

My wife and I moved from Texas to Bend, Oregon in January of 2018 with such excitement to press the “reset” button on our lives and begin again. We had both taken remote jobs working in the cannabis industry for the first time. This opened up a whole new world of opportunity, including living in a new and beautiful place. While in Oregon, I was the Director of Operations for a cannabis wellness brand that was transitioning into the California recreational market. Anna and I also partnered with a licensed processor in the i502 Washington [state] recreational market to create new brands, marketing, and distribution into dispensaries. One of our last projects in Oregon was our high-end hemp flower brand called Good Fortune Flowers that we were shipping nationwide. Unknowingly, we launched right before OG COVID dropped and Texas (our primary wholesale market for our new brand) changed their laws around smokable hemp.

As we explored the idea of entering into the recreational cannabis market, we quickly realized the barrier to entry in the more mature recreational markets can be very high. The more that we began to look into our future, the more arrows were pointing to Oklahoma as the right emerging market for us and our ideas. We aren’t afraid of a saturated market and lots of competition because we feel it brings out the best in us and our abilities. Although we still miss the mountains and forests of central Oregon, Oklahoma and its people have truly been so good to us since we moved here in April 2021. We are excited to be launching new brands here and hope to in-time earn the respect and sign-off of the local Oklahoma community. 

Courtesy of Brendon Wilder

Tell us about your brand, Highest Intent. What does your product offer to consumers in Oklahoma? Anything different from other competitors?

Our idea with Highest Intent was to make a cannabis product that could also be an addition to anyone’s daily wellness regimen. We realize that a lot of people stress out during their day, then consume cannabis to de-stress in the evening. The pandemic also really shifted our thinking in the direction of “proactive” wellness instead of always taking a “reactive” approach. We also wanted to create a product that’s not just about “feeling high,” yet is still effective for a wide range of users. Rather than creating another pretty-packaged distillate product in fancy packaging, we chose to create a product that we as patients wished existed in the market. 

We put our best ideas and intentions forward to bring you—Highest Intent. Our sublingual tinctures unite full-spectrum Nano THC with select ancient medicinal herbs and adaptogenic mushrooms that have supported our minds and bodies for thousands of years. Nano water-soluble THC allows for increased absorption and bioavailability, while the specific entourage of herbs and mushrooms in each formula help in ways that cannabis alone cannot. All of our tinctures use herbal and mushroom extracts (not simply “ground up mushrooms”) that contain no alcohol. Our products are gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, 100 percentage made from plants, and absolutely tasty. We believe that these products will open the door to a more mindful experience in life for many, many people. 

Are there any challenges you have had to overcome in order to create the Highest Intent brand, or its products?

Without a doubt, the hardest part of this whole process has been finding the right people to trust and build with. From wasted time and money on “consultants,” to going through several different herbalists and extractors, we have really flexed our problem-solving muscles this past year. We have high standards as patients and prefer a high level of accountability and transparency from the brands that we love and support. Therefore, our brands must meet these same standards, otherwise I can’t personally ethically be proud of them. Unfortunately, not everyone operates this way. 

We create products with the mindset that “we are patients first and foremost,” meaning that we will never put out products that aren’t completely up to our personal standard of consumption. Business school tells you to chase larger margins, but we decided to make this a premium, quality-first product at an inclusive price point. It took about eight months of product R&D to finally have a product formulated that we’re genuinely proud of. 

When do you expect Highest Intent products to be available in Oklahoma?

We just recently launched to the wonderful OMMA (Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority) patients of Oklahoma! Our Daily Wellness Tinctures are available in two dosage options in our “Energy & Ease” morning tincture, as well as two options in our “Chill & Restore” evening tincture. Each formula is use-specific and is created by our team of herbalists and ayurvedic practitioners.

Are there any plans in the works for 2022? Where do you see yourself and your brand in the future? 

These first four Highest Intent products are really only the beginning for us! We have big plans for 2022 that include lots of expansion. We plan to expand our THC line of Highest Intent products within Oklahoma to include more ratios of specific cannabinoids, as well as release products designed for specific uses such as allergies, pain management, respiratory health, etc. Highest Intent will also be launching a nano CBD line of products containing mushrooms and herbs later this year. We fully intend to expand our model and product offering out from Oklahoma to many other emerging markets as well.

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Medical Cannabis Tracking System Set to Launch in Oklahoma

Medical cannabis businesses in Oklahoma have about three months to get in line with the state’s “seed-to-sale” tracking system after a lawsuit that had delayed its implementation finally reached a settlement late last week.

The Oklahoman reported that attorneys who had filed a lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of the system said Friday that they “had reached an agreement with the state, clearing the way for the state to move forward.”

Oklahoma lawmakers approved the tracking system in 2019, a year after voters in the state passed an initiative at the ballot to legalize medical cannabis. 

Implementation of the system, which was designed to ensure that production of medical cannabis was in compliance with the state’s law, was postponed last spring after a group of medical cannabis businesses challenged it in court.

The dispensaries contended that they should not be subject to fees and other financial obligations associated with the tracking system and METRC LLC, the company with which the state contracted to implement the system. 

Ron Durbin, an attorney for a cannabis business that brought the lawsuit, also called out the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) for its implementation of the program, which he said came as a result of “backdoor rulemaking.”

“I’m arguing those are not the way you adopt regulations, and the regulations don’t require any of this,” Durbin said in June. “If that’s the case, we’re back to where I said we should be, which is: Go adopt some lawfully appropriate regulations to implement your seed-to-sale tracking program. OMMA has way over complicated this. Quite frankly, they dropped the ball and didn’t do their job in getting regulations done.”

Now with an agreement struck between the plaintiffs and the state, the tracking system is set to launch in 90 days, according to The Oklahoman

“It’s going to help us with that chain of custody of every single product in the state,” said Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority Director Adria Berry, as quoted by The Oklahoman. “If there is a product that is not in the seed-to-sale tracking system, then it is not legal—and we will be able to discover that quickly.”

According to The Oklahoman, Durbin “said he and the state’s attorney agreed this week to compromise on most of the issues raised in the lawsuit,” and that under the order signed by the judge, “all medical marijuana licensees have 90 days to become compliant with the tracking system.”

The agreement represents a major breakthrough for the Sooner State’s medical cannabis program. It also comes at a time when activists in Oklahoma are looking to take the next step in cannabis reform and bring more access to the state.

Voters in the state could see two different recreational pot proposals on the ballot in November, with the latest petition drive launched at the start of the year.

That campaign centers around a proposed initiative to “impose a 15 percent excise tax on recreational cannabis sales and includes a criminal justice element that would make the new law apply retroactively, which would allow some drug offenders to have their convictions reversed and records expunged,” The Oklahoman reported at the time.

In October, a group called Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action filed its own petition for a ballot proposal to legalize recreational pot for adults 21 and older.

“A lot of this is stuff that has been advocated for by a lot of folks in the community and industry over the last three years, and I don’t see it’s going to make it through the legislative process any time soon,” Jed Green, an organizer of the group, said last year.

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Second Petition to Legalize Cannabis Proposed in Oklahoma

The new year has brought a second bid to legalize cannabis in Oklahoma.

A petition to get a legalization initiative on the state ballot for Oklahoma this year was filed to the local secretary of state’s office on Tuesday, according to The Oklahoman newspaper.

The latest campaign is being driven by an Oklahoma woman named Michelle Tilley, who spearheaded a failed effort to get a legalization initiative on the state’s ballot in 2020.

“This is an effort that started several years ago but has grown,” Tilley told the newspaper in an interview. “We have a broad coalition of Oklahomans—small business owners, small growers, users and criminal justice reform people, as well.” 

The paper reported that the proposal “details a framework for adult-use cannabis, seeks to impose a 15 percent excise tax on recreational cannabis sales and includes a criminal justice element that would make the new law apply retroactively, which would allow some drug offenders to have their convictions reversed and records expunged.”

The upshot is that voters in Oklahoma could see two cannabis legalization measures on the ballot come November. 

That is because a separate petition to legalize pot was filed with the Oklahoma secretary of state back in October. 

Filed by a group called Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, the first proposal is similar to the one brought by Tilley and company.

Both would legalize weed for adults ages 21 and older, and both would levy a 15 percent tax on cannabis sales and both contain social justice provisions that would pardon and expunge previous low-level pot convictions.

“A lot of this is stuff that has been advocated for by a lot of folks in the community and industry over the last three years, and I don’t see it’s going to make it through the legislative process any time soon,” Jed Green, an organizer of Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, said at the time his group’s petition was filed.

“Until we pass recreational (marijuana legalization) we will not be able to truly bring stability to our program. Legalization prevents diversion,” he continued. “Folks have been and are going to use marijuana. Have been for decades. It is in the best interest of our state to get ahead of the curve on this issue. We must put this issue to rest.”

But there are some notable distinctions between the two campaigns, as The Oklahoman explained.

Perhaps most significantly, Tilley’s proposal, which would appear on the ballot as State Question 820, “proposes statutory changes to existing state law,” and if it were to be approved, “the governor and state lawmakers could modify the recreational marijuana laws through the legislative process,” according to The Oklahoman.

The proposal offered up by Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis, by contrast, would amend the state constitution and, thus, could only be further changed by voters.

The Oklahoman reported that Tilley’s campaign has won the support of “New Approach PAC, which is based out of Washington, D.C., and has spent millions supporting marijuana legalization campaigns in other states.”

Green said that his campaign has been driven by Oklahoma voters.

“Our effort is the homegrown effort, and this petition (SQ 820) is the corporate cannabis effort,” he told The Oklahoman.

The newspaper laid out the state of play for both campaigns. 

“The signature requirement to qualify constitutional petitions for the statewide ballot is nearly double that of statutory changes,” according to the report. “Supporters of SQ 819 will have to collect 177,957 signatures in 90 days, whereas proponents of SQ 820 will have the same time period to collect 94,910 signatures to qualify for a statewide vote.”

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