Oklahoma officials certified on Monday that activists have collected enough valid signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative before voters. But the measure may not end up on this November’s ballot as planned, because there are still additional formalities the proposal needs to go through as state deadlines to print voting materials approach.
Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (OSML) turned in what they said were more than enough signatures to qualify the legalization measure last month. That has now been confirmed, with the secretary of state’s office certifying that 117,257 of those submissions were valid, exceeding the 94,911 needed to qualify.
The initiative will now go before the state Supreme Court, which will review the signature counts and, if it signs off, there will then be a 10-day process in which members of the public can challenge the validity of the petitions.
But Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said in a June letter that August 29—a week from Monday—is the deadline to formally certify measures for the ballot, according to Tulsa World. Even so, officials would need to receive a gubernatorial proclamation of ballot status by no later than 5 PM this Friday.
“This ‘practical deadline’ ensures that county election boards have time to prepare ballots to meet the 45-day deadline to send absentee ballots to military voters” overseas, he wrote.
The OSML campaign has asked the Supreme Court to ensure that voters will be able to decide on the measure this November, calling the state’s timetable laid out by Ziriax “artificial.”
“The overwhelming number of signatures shows that Oklahomans are ready for sensible marijuana laws,” the campaign said in a Twitter post.
Today, 48 days after we turned in signatures, the OK Secretary of State officially reported that our campaign has over 117,000 valid signatures to place #SQ820 on the ballot! The overwhelming number of signatures shows that Oklahomans are ready for sensible marijuana laws. pic.twitter.com/rMuhBKCL8Q
— Yes on 820 Campaign (@YesOn820) August 22, 2022
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, which some observers have said has made the process take longer than usual.
“This administrative delay was both unexpected and inexplicable,” OSML said in its court filing, according to Oklahoma Watch. “Although billed as more ‘modern’ and ‘efficient,’ the new electronic process was anything but: it ended up taking more than twice as long as the secretary’s hand count in prior years.”
The attorney general’s office last month moved to supply a revised ballot title for the initiative, citing several insufficiencies in the one activists had initially proposed. The OSML campaign said it did not plan to contest the changes.
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The measure would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, grow up to six mature plants and six seedings for personal use. The current Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses.
A 15 percent excise tax would be imposed on adult-use marijuana products, with revenue going to an “Oklahoma Marijuana Revenue Trust Fund.”
The funds would first cover the cost of administrating the program and the rest would be divided between municipalities where the sales occurred (10 percent), the State Judicial Revolving Fund (10 percent), the general fund (30 percent), public education grants (30 percent) and grants for programs involved in substance misuse treatment and prevention (20 percent).
People serving in prison for activity made legal under the measure could “file a petition for resentencing, reversal of conviction and dismissal of case, or modification of judgment and sentence.” Those who’ve already served their sentence for such a conviction could also petition the courts for expungement.
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.
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:
North Dakota voters will have the chance to decide on marijuana legalization at the ballot this November, the secretary of state’s office confirmed.
In neighboring South Dakota, a marijuana legalization initiative has again qualified for the ballot.
The Arkansas Supreme Court recently ordered the secretary of state’s office to certify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot—but there’s a chance that the votes will not end up being counted, depending on the final outcome of a pending legal challenge.
Maryland elections officials have finalized the language for a marijuana legalization referendum that lawmakers placed on the November ballot, and have issued a formal summary of the reform proposal.
Missouri’s secretary of state announced earlier this month that activists had turned in enough signatures to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 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.
Nebraska’s secretary of state said that activists did not collect enough valid signatures to qualify two medical cannabis initiatives for the ballot.
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.
An effort to put adult-use legalization on the statewide ballot in Ohio fizzled out this year, but the campaign did secure a procedural legal win that will allow them to hit the ground running for a planned 2023 reform initiative.
Locally, Ohio voters in at least seven cities will get a chance to join many of their neighboring jurisdictions in enacting local marijuana decriminalization at the ballot this November.
Voters in five Texas cities will also vote on local cannabis decriminalization measures this year.
Advocates have also worked to place local decriminalization ordinances on the ballot in West Virginia.
Wisconsin voters in at least half a dozen cities and counties will also be asked on November’s ballot whether they support legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. Those Wisconsin 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.