The Oklahoma attorney general has revised the ballot title of a marijuana legalization initiative that activists hope will be certified to go before the state’s voters in November, making mostly technical changes that the campaign views as satisfactory.
Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (OSML) turned in what they consider to be more than enough signatures to qualify the legalization measure last month.
A few weeks later, state Attorney General John O’Connor’s (R) office released revised language of the ballot summary that corrects certain deficiencies and adds a fiscal impact note. The original version, the state’s first assistant attorney general wrote in a July 26 letter, “did not comply with applicable law.”
Michelle Tilley, campaign director of the Yes on 820 campaign, told Oklahoma Watch that advocates are “pleasantly surprised the attorney general revised the ballot title so quickly.”
“We were pleased the process worked the way it should in that instance,” she said. “We have no plans to contest it.”
The revised title puts a disclosure near the top, emphasizing that “marijuana use and possession remain crimes under federal law.” But beside restructuring and rephrasing certain provisions around tax revenue allocation, business licensing and expungements, the substance of both titles are fairly consistent.
Here’s the campaign’s original, proposed ballot title:
“This measure is intended to generally legalize, regulate and tax adult-use marijuana under state law (but not alter the rights of medical marijuana patients or licensees). Specifically, it would protect the personal use of marijuana for persons aged 21+, while establishing quantity limits, safety standards, and other restrictions and penalties for violations thereof. It would not affect an employer’s ability to restrict marijuana use by employees or prevent property owners from prohibiting or restricting marijuana-related conduct on that property in most cases. It also would not affect federal law regarding marijuana. It would vest in the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority the power to license and regulate conduct under the Act and administer and enforce the Act pursuant to specified requirements. Local governments could regulate the time, place, and manner of operation of businesses licensed pursuant to this Act, but not limit the number or completely prohibit such businesses. It would restrict business licenses to existing medical marijuana licensees for the first two years. While the measure requires enforcement and thus may have a fiscal impact on the state, it is designed to be self-funding: it would impose a 15% excise tax on sales to consumers (not applicable to medical marijuana) to fund the Authority, with the surplus directed to localities where sales occur (10%), to the General Revenue Fund (30%), to courts (10%), to schools (for programs to prevent substance abuse and improve student retention and performance) (30%), and to drug addiction treatment programs (20%). The measure would provide a judicial process for people to seek modification, reversal, redesignation, or expungement of certain prior marijuana-related judgments and sentences. It would provide for severability and an effective date.”
Here the attorney general’s revised title:
“This measure creates a state law legalizing recreational use marijuana for persons 21 or older. Marijuana use and possession remain crimes under federal law. The export of marijuana from Oklahoma is prohibited. The law will have a fiscal impact on the State. The Oklahoma Tax Commission will collect a 15% excise tax on recreational use sales, above applicable sales taxes. Excise tax revenues will fund implementation of the law, with any surplus revenues going to public school programs to address substance abuse and improve student retention (30%), the General Revenue Fund (30%), drug addiction treatment programs (20%), courts (10%), and local governments (10%). The law limits certain marijuana-related conduct and establishes quantity limits, safety standards, restrictions, and penalties for violations. A local government may prohibit or restrict recreational marijuana use on the property of the local government and regulate the time, place, and manner of the operation of marijuana businesses within its boundaries. However, a local government may not limit the number of, or completely prohibit, such businesses. Persons who occupy, own, or control private property may prohibit or regulate marijuana-related conduct, except that a lease agreement may not prohibit a tenant from lawfully possessing and consuming marijuana by means other than smoking. The law does not affect an employer’s ability to restrict employee marijuana use. For the first two years, marijuana business licenses are available only to existing licensees in operation one year or more. The law does not affect the rights of medical marijuana patients or licensees. The law requires resentencing, reversing, modifying, and expunging certain prior marijuana-related judgments and sentences unless the State proves an unreasonable risk to a person. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority is authorized to administer and enforce the law.”
While it is typically the responsibility of the secretary of state’s office to conduct signature verification, this year it has outsourced that process to a third-party company, Western Petition Systems. The cannabis campaign says that it has had observers monitoring the verification proceedings.
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If the secretary of state’s office announces that there are enough valid signatures for Question 820, the measure will be transmitted to the governor to formally certify it for ballot placement.
OSML, which is being backed by the national New Approach PAC, is one of two citizen efforts to put legalization on the ballot, with another one still in the process of signature gathering for its own pair of complementary initiatives.
The other campaign, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action (ORCA), tried to challenge the constitutionality of the competing measure on a single-subject basis, but the Supreme Court rejected the argument in April.
— Yes on 820 Campaign (@YesOn820) July 28, 2022
Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) claimed in his State of the State speech earlier this year that voters were mislead when they passed an earlier 2018 initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state, arguing that the measure may require legislative reform.
The governor said that the ballot question passed by voters “was misleading, and it has tied our hands as we regulate the industry.”
For his part, state Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R) said in an op-ed for Marijuana Moment that was published in March that states should legalize cannabis, but he wants to see the legislature craft thoughtful regulations for an adult-use program, rather than leave it to voters at the ballot.
Meanwhile, an Oklahoma Senate committee in April unanimously approved a House-passed bill to allow for the cultivation and administration of psilocybin by eligible institutions for research purposes—but the version that senators advanced omits a broader decriminalization provision that had previously been included. The legislation was ultimately not enacted before the end of the session.
Here’s the state of play for other drug policy reform ballot measures in 2022:
Missouri’s secretary of state certified that activists turned in more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot.
Colorado voters will have the chance to decide on a historic ballot initiative this November to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin “healing centers” where people can use the substance for therapeutic purposes.
South Dakota officials certified that activists turned in a sufficient number of signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the November ballot.
Maryland lawmakers passed legislation this year, which the governor allowed to go into effect without his signature, that will put the issue of cannabis legalization before voters this November.
Arkansas activists have filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court, seeking to secure ballot access for their proposed legalization initiative that the secretary of state certified has enough signatures to qualify. The legal action came after the state Board of Election Commissioners ruled that the measure’s ballot title and popular name are misleading.
North Dakota activists turned in what they believe to be enough signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative before voters.
Nebraska advocates recently submitted signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives. The campaign has faced several challenges along the way, including the loss of critical funding after a key donor passed away and a court battle of the state’s geographic requirements for ballot petitions.
An initiative to legalize marijuana will not appear on Ohio’s November ballot, the campaign behind the measure announced in May. But activists did reach a settlement with state officials in a legal challenge that will give them a chance to hit the ground running in 2023.
Michigan activists announced in June that they will no longer be pursuing a statewide psychedelics legalization ballot initiative for this year’s election and will instead focus on qualifying the measure to go before voters in 2024.
The campaign behind an effort to decriminalize drugs and expand treatment and recovery services in Washington State said in June that it has halted its push to qualify an initiative for November’s ballot.
While Wyoming activists said earlier this year that they made solid progress in collecting signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize medical cannabis, they didn’t get enough to make the 2022 ballot deadline and will be aiming for 2024 while simultaneously pushing the legislature to advance reform even sooner.
In March, California activists announced that they came up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.
Wisconsin voters in at least half a dozen cities and counties will be asked on November’s ballot whether they support legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. Those advisory questions will be non-binding, however, and are intended to take the temperature of voters and send a message to lawmakers about where their constituents stand.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.