Legalization initiative defeated in special election with low voter voter turnout
A special election for State Question 820, a statutory ballot initiative to legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis for adults, was held on March 7, 2023 in Oklahoma. The measure would also have allowed individuals to expunge low-level cannabis convictions from their criminal records. The campaign, known as Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, previously filed petition language in spring of 2022 and led a successful drive to qualify the legalization measure for the ballot. But after an unusually lengthy signature review process, Gov. Stitt opted to place the voter initiative on a standalone special election ballot in March of 2023 rather than the November 2022 general election ballot.
Unfortunately, only 25% of eligible voters participated, and SQ 820 was not approved, with 61.7% voting against the measure and 38.3% voting in favor. Despite this disappointing outcome, campaign leaders vowed that the effort to end senseless cannabis arrests and establish a safer system of regulated sales in Oklahoma would continue. MPP remains committed to supporting this work.
Yes on 820 campaign submits well over the required number of signatures to qualify for the ballot
Earlier this year, Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws filed language to let voters decide the issue of cannabis legalization in Oklahoma. After a fast-paced and hard fought petition drive, supporters submitted over 160,000 signatures the day after July 4th this year in the effort to qualify their initiative for the ballot.
Campaign leaders are confident the measure will be approved, and officials are expected to certify ballot access after they finish reviewing the submitted petitions. . If ultimately approved by voters, the measure would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and purchase up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to six mature cannabis plants at home.
The ballot question would establish a regulated adult-use market and a 15% tax on cannabis sales, with revenues directed to education programs, substance misuse treatment services, and the state’s general fund. The initiative also contains provisions to protect parental rights of cannabis consumers and a process to facilitate the expungement of past convictions for cannabis offenses.
During the spring months of 2022, the Oklahoma Legislature considered many bills that affect the existing medical cannabis program in the state, which was enacted thanks to a 2018 ballot initiative approved by voters. Among the bills that passed includes a law that halts the issuance of new cannabis business licenses from 2022 to 2024.
On June 26, 2018, Oklahoma voters legalized medical cannabis, creating access for patients with debilitating health conditions. After that, the state became the quickest in the nation to fully implement an effective medical cannabis law.
Licensed medical marijuana patients and caregivers are allowed to possess and grow limited amounts of cannabis and to purchase cannabis from regulated businesses. (You can read our summary of SQ 788 here.)
Oklahoma’s program is one of the largest in the nation. Roughly 10% of Oklahomans are currently registered as medical cannabis patients..
Oklahoma City decriminalizes possession; ask state lawmakers to follow suit
On September 24, 2018, the Oklahoma City Council approved reducing the penalty for simple possession of cannabis to a fine of up to $400. Until the new law took effect on October 26, 2018, the maximum fine for possession was $1,200 and six months of jail time. Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty recommended the ordinance, explaining it would keep the city safer by allowing officers to stay on the streets.
Penalizing individuals with jail time and a criminal record for possessing small amounts of cannabis wastes law enforcement resources. It can also lead to a lifetime of harsh consequences, including denial of student financial aid, housing, employment, and professional licenses. You can find more information on decriminalization here.
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Members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives recently approved HB 2722, which puts arbitrary caps on the number of medical cannabis businesses allowed in Oklahoma and creates impediments for new entrepreneurs to enter the industry. Passage of this legislation would only reduce competition and limit patients’ options.