Oklahomans could see on the ballot this year competing state questions to legalize recreational marijuana.
A second initiative petition to legalize recreational marijuana use in Oklahoma for anyone 21 years or older was filed Tuesday with the secretary of state’s office.
Campaign spokeswoman Michelle Tilley said this measure is a new version of a recreational cannabis initiative petition she helped with two years ago. That petition, State Question 807, didn’t make it on the statewide ballot partly because the start of the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to collect signatures.
“This is an effort that started several years ago but has grown,” she said. “We have a broad coalition of Oklahomans — small business owners, small growers, users and criminal justice reform people, as well.”
Among those supporting the effort is New Approach PAC, which is based out of Washington, D.C., and has spent millions supporting marijuana legalization campaigns in other states.
The group’s primary focus is criminal justice reform, and they see legal cannabis as a means to that end, Tilley said.
Similar to an initiative petition filed in October by Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, the latest proposal details a framework for adult-use cannabis, seeks to impose a 15% 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.
Tilley estimates about 60,000 Oklahomans could be helped by the criminal justice reforms in the petition.
But there are some differences between the two proposals.
The most recent petition, which would appear as State Question 820 if it qualifies for the ballot, proposes statutory changes to existing state law. If approved, the governor and state lawmakers could modify the recreational marijuana laws through the legislative process.
That’s different from the SQ 807 petition Tilley helped with in 2019, which proposed a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana.
Things change quickly in the marijuana industry, and the Oklahoma Legislature has been addressing some of those changes, Tilley said.
“We feel pretty satisfied that this should be statutory so that it can come up alongside the medical program, and things can be changed and adapted as they need to be, versus putting it in the constitution, which would obviously make that a lot more difficult,” Tilley said.
State Question 788, which voters passed to legalize medical marijuana, was a statutory question.
The recreational marijuana petition proposed by Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, which would appear on the ballot as State Question 819, seeks to amend the state’s constitution. If approved, it could only be altered through another statewide vote of the people.
However, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action Director Jed Green said there are parts of SQ 819 that give lawmakers some leeway to make statutory changes.
Noting that group’s initiative petition went through an extensive public feedback process among the state’s medical marijuana community, Green characterized SQ 819 as crafted by Oklahomans, for Oklahomans.
“Our effort is the homegrown effort, and this petition (SQ 820) is the corporate cannabis effort,” he said.
Tilley disputed that assertion, and said SQ 820 has support among Oklahomans in the cannabis community.
Green said there’s no animosity between his campaign and the opposition. He also expressed confidence that through a 77-county volunteer effort, Oklahoma for Responsible Cannabis Action will be able to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when we will have recreational cannabis in Oklahoma,” he said.
The signature requirement to qualify constitutional petitions for the statewide ballot is nearly double that of statutory changes. 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.
Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action also is pushing a companion petition, State Question 818, that would make changes to current medical marijuana laws and enshrine the state’s medical program in Oklahoma’s constitution. Proposed SQ 820 would not alter the state’s medical marijuana program.
As for other differences between the two petitions, SQ 819 seeks to phase out the 7% excise tax on medical marijuana, whereas SQ 820 says nothing about medical cannabis taxes.
The two petitions propose different, detailed ways of divvying up the tax revenue from recreational sales.
Credit: The Oklahoman