A former Republican Oklahoma lawmaker and a controversial marijuana activist are separately challenging a cannabis legalization initiative that was certified for ballot access last month and is still pending official placement for the November election amid additional legal scrutiny.
Mike Reynolds, who served in the Oklahoma House until 2014, filed a complaint with the state Supreme Court last week, alleging that a recently enacted state law on election integrity made it a “practical impossibility” to review signatures because, he said, they’ve been made inaccessible without taking legal action to review.
He received the signature data for State Question 820 last week, and he’s asked the court to grant a 10-day signature review period as well as a hearing and response from the secretary of state’s office regarding the merits of a challenge “arguing disapproval of all the signatures.”
Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall (R), sponsor of the election legislation, told KOFR that Reynolds was misinterpreting the bill. And Michelle Tilley, campaign director of Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (OSML) said the former lawmaker’s challenge is “a shot in the dark protest” that likely amounts to “another delay tactic.”
OSML submitted more than enough signatures to qualify their measure in July, and they also accepted ballot title language revisions from the state attorney general before the secretary of state’s office certified the signatures last month.
Meanwhile, an activist known for litigating ballot rules as it concerns cannabis measures, is also petitioning the state Supreme Court over the legalization measure. Paul Tay challenged a different legalization measure earlier this year, and now he’s renewing similar arguments in a complaint against SQ 820.
Specifically, he’s contending that signatures collected on sovereign Indian land are not valid. He made a similar argument against a since-withdrawn legalization measure that was led by a separate campaign.
An attorney for the campaign said in one of its recent filings earlier this month that court precedent has clearly undermined Tay’s argument, and the court should promptly make a judgment and dismiss the case.
“As this Court is aware, ballot deadlines are looming, and time is of the essence here,” they said. “Proponents thus respectfully request that the Court resolve the instant challenge quickly, to ensure that SQ820 may be submitted to a vote of the People at the upcoming November 2022 general election.”
OSML has spent a significant amount of time in the state Supreme Court this election cycle, and the court recently handed activists a temporary win by announcing that it would be delaying its decision on whether the state-certified legalization initiative will appear on the November ballot.
While the measure was certified by the secretary of state’s office, officials have argued that the campaign risked missing ballot printing cutoff dates. Activists then filed a lawsuit arguing that the deadlines suggested by state officials were “arbitrary,” and asked the Supreme Court to force the state to put the measure before voters in November.
A major contention in the case is the fact that the secretary of state’s ballot verification process was outsourced to a third party for the first time this year, and activists argued the company slow-walked the signature certification, potentially jeopardizing their ability to meet the printing deadline.
In a June letter, Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax also asserted that the governor would have needed to issue an executive proclamation to officially certify any ballot initiative by late last month. But advocates have pushed back on that interpretation.
The court ruled that it would be assuming jurisdiction of the case—and that the dispute would be “held in abeyance because the time period for filing objections to either the signatures or the ballot title has not yet expired.” That meant that the justices were not ready to decide on the central question and will wait until the normal ballot placement process works itself out before weighing in.
At this stage, the court could have simply issued a declaration that the campaign failed to have their petition processed in time, keeping it off the November ballot. But rather than take that action, it’s temporarily letting the measure proceed through the normal challenge process despite state officials arguing that key deadlines have already passed.
That kicked off a 10-day challenge period, which has seen the pair of complaints filed. But if the court resolves those challenges in the campaign’s favor, it’s possible that the justices could force the state to print the measure on the ballot in spite of the allegedly now-passed deadlines.
Alternatively, however, it could decide after that 10-day challenge period—which ends on Thursday—that it sides with the state and the measure would not go before voters this November and could be delayed until the next state election.
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), tried to challenge the constitutionality of OSML’s 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.
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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.