The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that voters will get to decide on a ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, but not until after this year’s general election in November. The state’s highest court rejected an appeal from the group Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws that would have required the State Election Board to include State Question 820 on the ballot for this year’s vote.
“There is no way to mandate the inclusion of SQ820 on the November 2022 general election ballot,” Justice Douglas Combs wrote in the majority opinion. “SQ820 will be voted upon by the people of Oklahoma, albeit either at the next general election following November 8, 2022, or at a special election set by the Governor or the Legislature.”
In July, Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws submitted petitions with signatures from more than 164,000 voters in favor of the legalization initiative, exceeding the number required to qualify for the ballot by more than 70,000 signatures. But the secretary of state’s office, which was using a new system to verify signatures, took far longer to certify the signatures than in previous elections, leaving too little time to include the question on this fall’s ballot, according to election officials.
Jeffrey Cartmell, counselor to the secretary of state, said the service provided by the third-party vendor to check signatures was possibly the first “true signature verification process” ever used by the state.
“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,” Cartmell wrote in a statement to News 9.
The Supreme Court also issued a decision on legal challenges to State Question 820 on Wednesday, ruling against two petitions that sought changes in the measure’s ballot title and summary. The justices also denied requests for rehearings on two challenges to the signature gathering process that the court had already rejected.
“It is disappointing that a few people with their own political interests were able to use the process to prevent voters from voting on this in November,” campaign director Michelle Tilley said in a statement. “However, we cannot lose sight of how far we have come. This is a big deal. Now the petition phase is finished, and Oklahomans will be voting to legalize recreational marijuana here, and we can soon realize all the benefits it will bring to our state.”
If the proposal is eventually passed, State Question 820 would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older. The ballot initiative would also task the state’s existing Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with drafting and implementing rules to regulate the new recreational cannabis industry. The measure also includes provisions to allow those with past convictions for some marijuana offenses to petition the courts to reverse their convictions and have their criminal record expunged.
State Question 820 would set a 15% tax on sales of recreational marijuana, more than double the 7% tax rate levied on sales of medical cannabis. Taxes generated by the sale of recreational pot would be divided among the state’s General Revenue Fund, local governments that allow licensed adult-use cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdiction, the state court system, school districts, and drug treatment programs.
With the Supreme Court’s decision, State Question 820 will not be presented to the electorate until the 2024 general election, unless a special election is called by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, who has expressed opposition to the proposal. But he has also said that the nation’s patchwork policy of cannabis legalization and prohibition has become problematic.
“Do I wish that the feds would pass legalized marijuana? Yes. I think that would solve a lot of issues from all these different states,” Stitt recently told The Associated Press. “But in our state, just trying to protect our state right now, I don’t think it would be good for Oklahoma.”
Arshad Lasi, CEO of Oklahoma licensed medical marijuana company The Nirvana Group, said that news of the Supreme Court’s decision “is disappointing because the industry and consumers here alike were optimistic that recreational marijuana would make it onto the ballot and be voted into law.”
“This setback may make things especially difficult for smaller businesses, who will likely continue to face challenges navigating this saturated market but growing market,” Lasi said in an email to High Times. “We are optimistic that another opportunity for adult-use marijuana may be possible via a special election in the coming months. However, if that doesn’t prevail we may not have another chance for two years.”