OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to consider whether a question on legalizing recreational use of marijuana should appear on the ballot in November.
Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws gathered enough signatures to qualify State Question 820 for a statewide vote, but because it took longer than usual to count the signatures, it's not clear if there is enough time to get the question printed on ballots ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. Officials with the Oklahoma Election Board said earlier this year the statutory deadline to call a state question election for November was Aug. 29.
Oklahoma's initiative petition process, which allows groups to gather enough signatures of registered voters to amend state law or even the constitution, has been used in recent years to bypass the GOP-controlled Legislature and implement progressive policies like medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion and reduced criminal penalties for low-level drug and property crimes.
But Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma have introduced bills to make the initiative petition process more difficult, including a new law approved in 2020 that provides more scrutiny in verifying voter signatures. Since then, a campaign by the Republican Party nationally, fueled in part by the false narrative of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, has led to a wave of new voting laws that will tighten access to the ballot for millions of Americans.
While the Oklahoma Secretary of State's Office has typically handled counting signatures in house, the process this year involved a contract with a company connected to a political polling firm to provide software and technical assistance to help verify the voter registration status of signatories. As a result, supporters say a signature-counting process that typically takes two to three weeks took nearly seven weeks to complete.
“Since filing their initiative more than six months ago, proponents have done everything in their power to expedite the unwieldy Oklahoma initiative petition process so the People of Oklahoma can exercise their right to vote on the measure at the next general election," proponents of SQ 820 wrote in a petition to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. “Yet they have been stymied by state officials (or their hand-picked vendors) who are either unable or unwilling to perform their administrative duties in a timely and efficient manner."
Secretary of State Brian Bingman said in a statement that as a result of the new law, only signatories that were registered voters were counted.
“This new process differs significantly from the historical practice of merely counting the number of individuals who signed the petition without regard for their voter registration status," Bingman said. “Our office has been in constant communication with the proponents and we look forward to working with them and other interested parties as we continue to improve this new process."
If the group is unsuccessful getting the question on the ballot this year, the governor could either call a special election or the question would be on the November 2024 ballot.
Oklahoma already has one of the most robust medical marijuana programs in the country, with roughly 10% of the state’s residents having state-issued medical cards that allow them to purchase, grow and consume marijuana.
The current 7% excise tax on medical marijuana sales generates about $5 million in state revenue each month, plus another roughly $6 million each month in state and local sales taxes, according to figures from the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
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Sean Murphy, The Associated Press