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 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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