The 10-day protest period ended Sept. 15 for Oklahoma’s adult-use cannabis ballot measure, State Question 820, which received four challenges that campaign organizers are calling “frivolous” in their pursuit for reform.
The challenges dispute the sincerity of the measure’s title as well as the validity of signatures that Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (OSML), dubbed the “Yes on 820 Campaign,” submitted July 5 to Secretary of State Brian Bingman’s office.
Now, it’s up to the state’s Supreme Court justices to determine whether the challenges hold the legal substance needed to sway a determination for S.Q. 820’s appearance on the November 2022 statewide ballot.
“We remain confident that State Question 820 has enough time, valid signatures, and support to be printed on the November ballot,” Campaign Director Michelle Tilley said in a Sept. 15 press release. “We believe the court will act quickly to dismiss these half-baked challenges aimed at thwarting Oklahomans’ right to vote on State Question 820 this November. I would also remind our challengers that Oklahomans do not take kindly to folks trying to take away our rights, and the state has severe penalties for filing lawsuits that waste everyone’s time.”
One of the challenges was brought forth by state residents John Stotts, Karma Robinson and Mary Chris Barth. Stotts served on the Pottawatomie County Farm Bureau board of directors for more than 30 years; Barth serves on the Beaver County Farm Bureau’s board of directors; and Robinson, of Oklahoma County, has connections to the State Chamber of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and to past political campaigns for former Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and current U.S. Sen. James Inhofe—both Republicans.
In their challenge, they allege that the language of S.Q. 820’s ballot title misleads voters by leaving out at least five proposed changes to state law, from public safety for children to firearm possession.
“S.Q. 820 goes beyond ‘legalizing recreational use marijuana for persons 21 or older,’” the complaint states. “These material changes to the law should be disclosed to Oklahoma voters in the ballot title.”
While the complaint only lists Stotts, Robinson and Barth as petitioners, Luke Niforatos, a leader of a pair of prohibitionist groups, took credit for “partnering to make this challenge happen” in a social media post on Sept. 15. Niforatos is the CEO of political action committee Protect Our Kids and the executive vice president for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).
With the election less than two months away, OSML Senior Campaign Adviser Ryan Kiesel said the complaints are “delay tactics” by opponents.
And time is of the essence in Oklahoma. Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax previously indicated an Aug. 26 deadline for measures to be finalized for statewide ballot measures to be printed on time.
While OSML organizers submitted roughly 164,000 signatures on July 5, it took Bingman’s office 48 days—until Aug. 22—to certify 117,257 signatures, surpassing the required minimum of 94,911. OSML leaders said the seven weeks it took to certify the signatures resulted from “a third-party vendor’s unprecedented slow signature count and absurd bureaucratic delays.”
“Over 117,000 Oklahoman voters—Republicans, Libertarians, Democrats and Independents from all 77 counties—signed this petition,” Kiesel said in the OSML release. “We have a right to vote on State Question 820 in 54 days on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, and our rights should not be thwarted by obvious delay tactics from special interest groups.”
While S.Q. 820 hangs in the balance of a Supreme Court decision, if enacted by voters, it will legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, including the possession of up to 1 ounce of dried flower or 8 grams of concentrate. Also, individuals would be allowed to grow up to six mature plants and six seedlings at a time in their homes.
The state would levy a 15% excise tax on commercial adult-use cannabis sales, and the revenue would be split among the state’s general fund (30%), public school program grants (30%), drug addiction treatment programs (20%), a state judicial revolving fund (10%) and to municipalities or counties where the cannabis is sold (10%).
Local municipalities may regulate the time, place and manner of cannabis business operations within their jurisdictions; however, a local government may not limit the number of, or completely prohibit, such businesses.
For the first two years of enactment, adult-use cannabis business licenses would be available only to existing medical licensees in operation for one year or more. The existing Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority would be authorized to administer and enforce the law.
And the initiative also aims to provide common sense criminal justice reform and expungement for certain low-level cannabis offenses, as well as defend the rights and civil liberties of patients and adult consumers alike.
“The end of the protest period marks an important milestone for the campaign and Oklahoma voters,” Kiesel said. “We respectfully urge the Supreme Court to use its constitutional authority to protect our right to vote and end these political games.”