The governor of Oklahoma has officially called for a special election in March 2023 for voters to decide on marijuana legalization.
Activists had pushed to place the cannabis reform measure on next month’s ballot, but it faced obstacles in the state Supreme Court after complaints were filed and procedural deadlines passed.
Now Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) issued a proclamation on Tuesday stipulating that the initiative from Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (OSML) and Yes on 820 will go before voters during a special election on March 7, 2023.
On the one hand, this is a welcome development for advocates, as the court action could have meant that legalization wouldn’t have been decided until the next general election in November 2024 without a special election being called. That would have meant another two years of arrests of people for adult-use marijuana in the state.
On the other hand, putting the initiative on a special off-year ballot raises some concerns about lower and potentially more conservative voter turnout compared to a general election—especially for 2024 when the presidency will be decided.
That being said, Oklahoma voters did handily approve a medical marijuana legalization measure during a June primary election in 2018.
“After all the delays caused by the new signature count process, we are excited to finally be going to the ballot on March 7, 2023, so that Oklahomans can experience the benefits of SQ820 without further delay,” Michelle Tilley, campaign director for OSLM / Yes on 820, told Marijuana Moment.
“We are grateful the voices of over 164,000 Oklahomans who signed the petition and want to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana for adults in Oklahoma have been heard,” she said. “Republicans, Libertarians, Democrats and independents alike are excited to stop wasting law enforcement resources and start reaping the hundreds of millions of dollars in financial benefits that come with legalizing, regulating and taxing recreational marijuana for adults in Oklahoma.”
“We are grateful to the hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans who have worked on and supported this State Question. Now we need everyone to pull together now to get this past the finish line we have just under 5 months…140 days…to Educate, Register, and Activate Voters to pass State Question 820. We know that the people of Oklahoma support SQ820, now we need to make sure they turn out to vote.”
Stitt’s new proclamation cites the statute authorizing the governor to convened the election and then provides the text of the “substance of the measure.”
Stitt doesn’t support adult-use legalization—though he did say last month that he thinks the federal government should end prohibition to “solve a lot of issues from all these different states” that have legalized cannabis.
The governor also said earlier this year that he thought voters were misled into approving an earlier medical cannabis legalization initiative in 2018.
OSML collected enough signatures to qualify legalization to go before voters this year and had anticipated it would happen in November. But they faced a setback when signature verification took longer than expected and state officials said there was not enough time to print and mail ballots for overseas voters with the cannabis question included.
The court did shut down a total of four separate legal complaints against the measure that challenged the signature certification and ballot title, however.
OSML spent a significant amount of time in the state Supreme Court this election cycle. Hopes were raised after the court handed activists a temporary win last month by announcing that it would be delaying its decision on ballot placement, but it delivered the final ruling last month.
Here’s what the cannabis legalization initiative would achieve:
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 that launched this year. The other campaign, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action (ORCA), did not end up collecting enough signatures, and one of its leaders filed legal challenges against the successful OSML effort.
Oklahoma 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 text of the ballot description that the governor included in the proclamation:
“State Question 820 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.”
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